First posted by Women’s Voices for Change: www.womensvoicesforchange.org
During our twenty-eight years of marriage, my husband and I celebrated Valentine’s Day in various ways. Many Valentine’s evenings involved an elegant dinner at a nice restaurant and flowers with messages like, “Diane, all of my love through all our years.” On Valentine’s Day in 1991, during my master’s program, I arrived home exhausted from my long evening in class. John greeted me at the door dressed in a partially buttoned tuxedo shirt and black dress slacks. After a hug and welcome home kiss, I followed him into the dining room. The table was set for a romantic dinner for two with pink carnations, red candles and chocolate hearts wrapped in red foil arranged in the center of the white tablecloth. Together we enjoyed his delicious shrimp and linguini dinner, toasting our love for each other with a glass of champagne. After dinner we opened cards and gifts wishing each other many years filled with Valentine’s Days together.
That Valentine’s dinner when we clinked our champagne glasses, I never imagined ten years later I’d be a fifty-three year old widow. John’s sudden death on June 30, 2000 at the age of fifty-four devastate me. Living alone, I struggled to find meaning in life again. I longed for the warmth of John’s hugs, the daily experiences we shared and those special conversations over intimate dinners. My Valentine’s Days became focused on my exuberant students decorating the classroom with red and white crepe paper streamers and sharing heart shaped sugar cookies with everyone—including me.
After years of solitude with time to rediscover the “me” hidden inside, I realized I wanted someone to love in my life again. I dated a few men I met at social gatherings, but the awkward dates made me miss John even more. I had almost hung up my dating shoes when a young friend of mine whose fiancé had died in a car accident called and convinced me to sign up for match.com. My sister cautioned me about the dangers of online dating, but I figured it couldn’t be any worse than meeting John in a smoky bar back in 1971. When I received a “wink” on match.com from “planenuts,” I decided to give “planenuts” a “wink” back. Allan—a.k.a “planenuts” an airplane enthusiast— and I met for our first date at San Pedro’s Café in Hudson, Wisconsin on January 29, 2006. We hit it off right away. Both of us were widowed. We talked about our loving spouses, the difficulty of loss and the importance of commitment in a marriage. When he told me he recycled and clipped coupons, I knew he was the guy for me.
In September 2007, we said, “I do”. Over the six years since we married, we’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day in a variety of ways—some more exciting than others. Last year, Allan tangled with a ladder. His shattered knee required a three-hour surgery on New Year’s Day. After the surgery, the orthopedic doctor assured me Allan would be back to normal activity in nine to twelve months which made me wonder what I had said “I do” to!
On Valentine’s Day, busy with my “nurse duties,” I had no time to go shopping, so instead I dug out the cards I’d saved from our previous years. That evening, I set the table, lit a mini-candle and de-corked a bottle of Merlot. With Allan’s walker parked next to his chair and dressed in his tee shirt and baggy pajama bottoms, we sipped our wine, “exchanged” cards, and reread our old Valentine messages to each other. Lifting our glasses we looked forward to better days ahead.
Six decades of Valentine’s Days have passed through my life. Memories of my thirty-seven years as an elementary teacher listening to students squealing as they ripped open Valentine’s cards reminds me that, no matter how you celebrate it—curled up in a chair with a great book, snuggled with your sweetheart on the couch, or holding hands with a loved one in a nursing home—Valentine’s Day is about sharing our lives and love with others. Which is what every day should be!
Diane Dettmer 2013