Valentine’s Day. Another day to feel my loss more deeply? Why do these celebrations continue to come up to remind me of my loss? To have others enjoy when I don’t seem to rise to the occasion. To send a Valentine’s Day card when I have lost my son? Can I celebrate the day and not betray his memory? Not cause extra grieving for for me. For him?

Perhaps if we define the word celebrate, that might give me some answer. So what does it mean? Some of its meaning is to rejoice, to commemorate, to mark an event. What can I rejoice about? That my son is gone? No. Not at all. Commemorate or mark an event? Too often all that comes to mind is finding his body in his apartment in NYC. That I do not wish to recall or mark. So what is there to celebrate?

Well, I can rejoice in his life. In his having been. In his bringing so much joy into our lives. I can remember the many Valentine’s Days that he sat there carefully, yet hesitantly and eventually sloppily in his newly-learned penmanship, writing out a card for every person in his class. A bigger one for the teacher.

And his joyful reading of those pink and pastel color hard candy hearts with printing on them like “Be Mine”. Reading it out loud. Then popping it into his mouth. The pleasure of sugary taste on his tongue. And him schlepping home a crumpled brown bag loaded with cards from all his classmates, all asking him to be their valentine. And more of those candy hearts alongside a broken cookie heart at the bottom of the bag. Surely I can rejoice in these memories. Even smile a bit from them.

And I can commemorate his life. A wonderful life, too brief.  One of joy and success. For him. For us. One that I would not have given up for anything except his living it longer.

To commemorate. To remember the wonderful days we had. That day before Valentine’s Day when he bought some girl a large valentine and then worried if he should give it to her. What if she did not give him one too? Or if she didn’t respond well to it — heaven forbid, laugh at his attempts to express a young crush. And the card he would make for his mother that rests in the drawer along with all the other cards he made and bought for her. I can and do commemorate the wonderful days we celebrated together. That brings me a smile and some feeling of happiness.

Certainly, these memories can and do mark an event to rejoice in. Many events brought wonder and joy into my life because he was there. His first valentine card which went into his mouth to be teethed on as did most everything else. The time he and his mother baked sugar cookie hearts and decorated them for his class to help celebrate the day. When he borrowed the car to take a girlfriend out for Valentine’s Day. And when older how we ate and ate at an all-you-can eat sushi restaurant until we had gone through most of the menu. And when at our favorite Chinese dive in NYC he ate two plates of food prompting the waiter to say “Little man eat big.” And how every time we left one another, he would say “I love you” and give me a big hug.

I can still feel those hugs some days and revel in the memory. The almost daily events when he would call when at work. Simply to say hello. Share part of his day. Tell me he loved me. Specially I revel in the singular event at the Beacon theater.  When he bought tickets for us to see and hear Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead. My son thought I was cool enough to share this event with him. And be seen with his father. A night that will always have to bring a warm feeling. Yes, I have many days and events to mark and celebrate.

These and so many more.

Yes, I can celebrate all the days of love. The every single day as Valentine’s Day that we had when we had him. He may be gone but the love I have for him and the love he had for us will never disappear. So on this Valentine’s Day and every one to follow, I will celebrate his life with a card and a candy heart that says “He was Mine.”

Neal Raisman

Dr. Neal Raisman is Emma’s and Jack’s “zaddi” or grandfather which he considers his number one job. But Dr. Raisman is also the leading authority and consultant on customer service and retention in higher education. Dr. Raisman’s best selling books such as The Power Of Retention: More Customer Service In Higher Education have been purchased by 63% of all colleges in the US. His latest book is From Admissions to Graduation: Increasing Growth through Collegiate Customer Service. His customer service and retention blog with its discussions of recent research and solutions to customer service issues is very popular and read by over 2,000 colleges, universities and business that work with academia each week He has two children. Isaac who died of meningitis at age 26 and Shana who is 42 and mother to Jack and Emma. Neal is a highly sought after speaker, trainer, consultant, researcher, and marketer on customer service. His firm, N.Raisman & Associates is the leading customer service consulting group for retention, enrollment, morale and marketing for higher education and businesses that work with colleges in the US, Canada and Europe. He has a PhD from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in neurolinguistics, was a Fulbright Fellow in France; has published six books, over 400 articles and the blog; won numerous academic and marketing awards and accolades. But, little makes him prouder than his family and when his dog Hersch listens to him.

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