The Valentine of Love & Grief
A few weeks ago, I received a box from my sister Beth who lives in Sarasota in the house my parents built and lived in until the end of their lives. For Dad, that was 23 years ago, and for Mom, 2 ½ years ago. Beth cared for Mom at the end of her life and now lives in the house making it her own.
As you know, when someone we love dies there is much business to attend to. My sisters and I have been working on that, and no one more diligently than Beth. We have lovingly (and laughingly at times – think 8 empty mustard jars in the back of a kitchen cabinet) sorted, discarded, sorted some more and passed on to each other those things that hold great meaning and memory. Only a few things remain so the task is coming to a close. We are finding that the tangible “things” they used hold much less meaning than the memories they saved. We found representations of so much love and we found them in unexpected places and ways.
We thought we would not survive the loss of our beloved Dad, but we did. Then years later, we lost Mom and we had an idea what it might be like so we were a bit better prepared. No matter the preparation, the loss was just as great. It’s more that we were less blind-sided by grief and all its facets this time. We had visited that place and knew some of its contours.
Through the years since their deaths the pain of the loss has been smoothed by time, and the memories of the love we shared have been polished to a fine patina that offers comfort when grief rears its ugly head. That was so true when the box arrived. I knew it was coming but wasn’t sure what it would hold. It contained Mom’s confirmation Bible, a carved wooden box that Mom loved and some art I had made for them. I was aware some of these things would be in it, but what surprised me most that day was this.
Upon opening the box, I found on the very top of it this heart that my daughter made at age 3 on Valentine’s Day. There was no stronger and more beautiful love than the love shared between my parents and my daughter, so it wasn’t a surprise that they saved some of her childhood art. I scarcely remember the assembling of that heart; it was 45 years ago. My own heart jumped when I saw it, and then I turned it over and it melted. On the back of it, in my father’s own handwriting, was my daughter’s name and the date Feb. 14, 1973.
The grief came flooding back but this time in the form of love that was so overwhelming I almost glowed. My Dad was very practical and his sentimental side was mostly internal. He didn’t display it often other than the sparkle in his eye when we were with him. My Mom was the family archivist so the fact that Daddy had written Connie’s name and the date on that Valentine was a soaring testament to love. As I examined the heart and his writing, I could almost feel his hug and smell him near me, all Chapstick and Vel soap.
Grief and love are closely intertwined. We love so deeply that loss makes grief that much deeper. But as time goes by, love takes its rightful and most special place in our memories of that person and while we feel the loss, we also feel the comfort and gratitude of having had them in our lives. It is a love that lasts forever. My prayer for each of you is that the grief you feel for your loss will grow into a newness of life anchored in memories of love.
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About the Author
Regina Strader Hunt, a workshop facilitator for Faith & Grief, is a ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church in Dallas where she works in the area of congregational, pastoral care, and spiritual formation. She is a long time Stephen Minister and Leader in that congregation and also works with other Dallas area congregations in grief ministry and ministries of spiritual formation and growth. Regina holds certificates in Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Direction from HeartPaths Spirituality Centre, sits on the board of Spiritual Ministries Institute, and works in private practice as a spiritual director. She has completed the two-year lay pastor (CRE) certification program (PCUSA) at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. As a change management consultant, she works with large organizations to develop strategies that minimize disruption and negative impact of large scale changes within those organizations as well as their business partners.