Giving Away My Heart

It is Tuesday, February 14th. I wrote this on Sunday, three days ago, and have been re-reading and re-writing parts of it ever since. I think I have it now. And just in time to be appropriate for the occasion , because it’s . . . .

Another Valentine’s Day with no Brian

So many emotions swirl around this day for me. Many of them warm, happy memories of a love shared by two people for 30 years. Others, equally as poignant, but painful, serve as a cruel reminder that the person who I shared those memories with, will, in six weeks, have been dead for two years. For reasons I won’t go into here, Valentine’s Day was one of my least favorite “Hallmark Holidays.” When I met Brian, I had just fought my way through a painful, drawn out divorce, which left me physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Love was the last thing I was looking for, because I wasn’t even sure I believed it existed any more. But, it would seem that the universe thought otherwise, and it didn’t take long before a chance meeting of two lonely people, both healing from the trauma of divorce, forever changed the emotional landscape for both of them. 

I remember telling Brian, when our first Valentine’s Day as a couple approached, that I had issues with the whole concept. I said I didn’t like the fact that it was so scripted. That women would often get angry or be hurt if their sweetheart failed to give them “the perfect expression of love” (whatever that is!), or, God forbid, forgot the day altogether. It seemed to me to be a set up for “high expectations with the distinct chance of significant disappointment.” And, quite frankly, I’d had enough disappointment to last me for a very long time. In the last year before my divorce, I’d had a particularly difficult Valentine’s Day experience that soured my attitude about the whole thing even more. After relating the details of that event to Brian, I said it would not matter to me if he didn’t give me anything on “The Day.” That is, anything other than simply just being with him, which to me, was a gift in and of itself. However, I said I would gladly accept and appreciate any gift he gave me, including, but not limited to, Valentine’s Day. So, when the first Valentine’s together came along I was not expecting anything. What I did get, however, was the best gift I think I have ever had. That is, until this Sunday.

I’ve been an educator all of my life, mostly at the elementary level, and I have four children. So I am well acquainted with “homemade” cards emblazoned with loving messages. Simple and sincere ones inscribed in scrawled handwriting by children. In fact, I still have many of those wonderful cards. They are among my most prized possessions. Even now that my children are all grown and are themselves parents, finding those cards still makes my heart skip a beat and tears fill my eyes. But, even more precious to me than any of those, is the card Brian gave on that first Valentine’s Day. It is a simple yet eloquent card, made from red and pink construction paper. On the front was a large heart with slits cut down the middle through which a red arrow had been carefully woven. And, inside, was a handwritten message which read: “Julie, You are My Fair Lady! Love, Sir Brian.” Simple, sort of corny, I know. . . but still, so beautiful. I have kept it all these years, and, since he died, it has meant more to me than ever, because I now know I will never have a Valentine from him again. Or might I?

And that brings us to today. Sunday. The day that is the hardest day of the week for me. Having been a pastor’s wife for all of those years, Sunday’s were days where my role of “chief support giver and head cheerleader” was most important and appreciated. However, now I am alone on Sunday. While I am used to sitting by myself in the pew at church, Brian was never far away. He was always there, right in front of me, leading worship. After he retired eight years ago, he was right there beside me in the pew. Then he died, and it took me a very long time to be able to even go to church, much less stay for the entire service. There were too many reminders that he was gone, and that was just too painful. I’m pleased to say that I have conquered that at this point, but the nagging emptiness is still with me. And more than once, sitting alone in the pew, I have shed a quiet tear as a fond memory floated through my head. Today was one of those days.

I arrived at church with about fifteen minutes to spare before the service began. The narthex was crowded with parishioners, exchanging greetings and visiting. Hanging up my coat and slinging my purse over my shoulder, I made my way through the chattering, milling crowd and into the sanctuary. Many times Brian and I had laughed about how “territorial” church goers are about “their spot,” so I knew just where my personal spot was, and I marched myself right up to the third pew from the front on the right hand side. Setting my purse down beside me, I started to look for my phone, to  make sure it was set on silent. However, before I could get that far, I noticed a pink heart stuck to the front of my purse. My breath caught in a small, jagged, nearly silent gasp when I saw it. Immediately I thought, “How did that get there?!” I looked around the church for others with pink hearts, but there didn’t seem to be anyone. I alone had the mysterious pink heart. It was not there when I’d taken off my coat, but in the short time it took for me to walk to my pew, it seemed to have magically appeared, and this was quite perplexing. My next thought was why had it not simply fallen off without me ever knowing it had been there? And then I started to wonder: Could it be another of the many signs I have had from Brian since he died; Signs, showing me that while he is no longer physically with me, he has not forgotten me and is still right here, every minute of every day, now cheering me on and supporting me as I continue to write the rest of my story? Fighting back tears, I slowly ran my hand over the heart, carefully removed it from my purse, and tucked it safely away inside the front cover of my checkbook. For the first time in a long time, I felt him next to me in the pew, just for a second, but that was all I needed. After church, as I turned from putting on my coat I absentmindedly glanced back towards the sanctuary. There, just a few feet from the door leading into it, was a hand sanitizer posted on a stand. And on the front of it was — you guessed it — another pink heart! I smiled, put my hand on my purse where I knew that MY valentine from Brian was, and walked out to my car. 

I never thought I would get a Valentine card from Brian again, handmade or otherwise. But, it looks like he found a way to get one to me today. Small miracles are all around us. You just have to be open to seeing them. I hope you see yours. They are so worth looking for. 💗

A Risk Worth Taking

There are some things in life I'd do over again,
like giving away my heart.
The joy that came with it was worth all the pain
brought by death
when it tore us apart.

The laughter, the tears, the joys and the sorrows were worth
all grief's heartbreak and pain.
And while I knew the whole time
it could all end tomorrow, 
in a heartbeat, I'd do it again.

So, if love comes your way, don't pass it by.
The risk is one well worth the taking.
You may live to regret it if you don't even try.
"Love might be a mistake,
but it's worth making."*

Julieanne Gentz

* I Hope You Dance, Lee Ann Womack

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