Ahh, Valentine’s Day…day of roses, chocolates, candy hearts, and love. As soon as New Year’s Day passes, the stores’ shelves turn into an endless sea of pink and red. Over the years, I have come to develop a love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day, “V-Day,” as I call it…all stemming from February 14, 1988-the last day I spent with my mother.
I really did intend for my next post to be a knee-slapping, fun-loving tale where I entertained you with an embarrassing story from my past and then enlightened you with some kind of “purpose, passion, and love” life lesson. But, with the 30 year anniversary of my mother’s death just days away, I needed to share a different story.
This post is not so much about that terrible day but rather the aftermath..the days that followed where life was just never quite the same again. It’s about how days like that change you in ways you don’t expect…ways that create a little footnote to your story that needs to be explained to anyone new in your life.
I won’t torture you with all the sad details of my mother’s passing. It was difficult and tragic. I was 15, just months away from a 16th birthday that no one dared to call “sweet.” My mother was only 49 years young and had just accepted a new job that not only offered her a great salary but also a boss that truly appreciated her skills and talent. After a few unexplained episodes of dizziness and other symptoms, she was admitted to the hospital for further testing. No one had any idea what was wrong and her doctors gave us no indication that her condition was life-threatening.
On the evening of February 14, 1988, my father and I visited my mother. It was Valentine’s Day, so I purchased a single long-stemmed red rose from the hospital’s gift shop and gave it to her. I then proceeded to spend the rest of our visiting time watching television and not talking with my mother, something to this day I feel guilt and anguish over. As we left that evening, I told my mother I loved her and kissed her goodbye…not knowing it would be the last time.
My beautiful mother, Lorraine when she was in her twenties
The next morning, I was awakened by my mother’s voice which woke me out of a deep sleep. I looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand and it read 8:33 a.m. which I later learned was my mother’s time of death. No lie.
It was a Monday but also President’s Day and the beginning of my Winter Break. I got up, poured myself a bowl of cereal, and got ready for a lazy teenage day at home alone. A few hours later, I saw my sister and father pull up in my dad’s car and watched through the window as they made their way toward the house, carrying the single rose I had given my mother the night before.
The days that followed were a blur of intense grief and complete shock. 30 years later I can remember only scattered details of the funeral home, church, and service…some appear sharper than others in my memory’s eye. The one memory that has stayed with me as if it were just yesterday is not one of sight or sound, but that of scent.
We had several days and nights of visitation so that relatives near and far had time to travel to New York to pay their last respects to my mother. Because she was so beloved, flowers, primarily roses, poured in from all around the country. The air was filled with the strong fragrance of several-day-old bleeding hearts and other floral arrangements…roses taking center stage in the battle of the scents.
From that day forward, the scent of roses has had the ability to return me to my 15 year old self, sitting in the largest room of the Moore Funeral Home, stunned by the realization that I would have to live out the rest of my life without my most important person. From that day forward, I became a part of the minority of women who do not like roses, especially on Valentine’s Day.
Don’t get me wrong…I think roses are truly exquisite flowers. Regardless of form or color, they possess a duality of strength and fragility. Their razor sharp thorns protect them as they mature from tightly wrapped bud until they unfold petal by petal into sensual bloom. It is no surprise that they are a flower of strong emotion, delivered and received with great joy to celebrate friendship, deep love, romance, and passion.
But as I said, the aftermath of great loss can change a day of love into a day of sadness, a flower of romance into a flower of grief. After receiving roses from my first serious boyfriend, I decided that I would tell my Valentine/rose story to all future love interests and have done so up until my current relationship. As I have in the past, I recently shared my story, notifying J that roses were on my “do not like” list. I always feel awkward and embarrassed saying that, as if I’m telling someone I hate puppies or babies. If he thought my feelings about roses was peculiar, he didn’t show it and instead listened empathetically.
As I approach this Valentine’s Day, the 30 year anniversary of the last time I saw my mother, I find my attitude toward roses beginning to change. This is the first year since my mother’s passing that I really want to like roses. Instead of holding on to the pain of the past and surrendering to the power I have given to my grief, I hope to move on and embrace all the beauty and fragrance the roses in my life may bring me.
For so long I have been like a tightly wrapped bud, resisting the natural process of healing and growing. It has taken me 30 years to realize that it’s harder to resist change than it is to allow change. So, on this February 15th, I will say a little prayer to my mother, tell her how much I love and miss her, and then I will head down to the local florist and purchase for myself a single beautiful rose in full bloom.
On that day, I will attach a new memory to roses and revise my V-day footnote so that it no longer describes me as someone that does not like roses, but rather someone who embraces the opportunity to blossom.
Peace ☺ and love ♥