Valentines Day Cards, Why We Embrace This Ritual
As a caregiver, I've learned that love can take many forms. Read about my experience of finding the perfect Valentine's Day card for my dying uncle and how it helped me understand the different ways people express their love for each other.
By Judy Morton
Valentines Day Cards…
I’ve never seen my in-laws exchange any kind of affection. No cards – they both think such things are a silly waste of time. No “I love you” said to each other, as they apparently either think such things are not for their children to hear, or don’t feel it necessary to say at all. I can only think of one or two gifts I’ve ever known them to get each other, and never on Valentine’s Day. But the care they take of each other is evident, I guess, in the fact that they both just accept that it’s there. And that must mean something, after all these years. It’s just very different from my family.
Throughout the years of their lives, my parents’ abiding love for each other was so evident. We never doubted their feelings for each other or for us. My mom always got my dad a card – and although he did not always reciprocate with a card, he did always get her a little something – chocolate, usually – that he knew she liked. (The big spending occasions were her birthday, their wedding anniversary and Christmas, so he didn’t go all out on what is, basically, a manufactured holiday.)
All three of my uncles were devoted to their parents, and always got sweet Mother’s Day and Valentine cards for their mother, and even, sometimes, for their sister (my mom). My one married uncle delighted in giving my aunt gifts, and loved to buy her jewelry. Even up to the week before he died.
As a caregiver, I’ve done many things I never expected to do. I’ve been with beloved relatives as they took their last breath, I’ve bathed them, cleaned them, helped them in every way I could. I learned years ago how to give injections, check blood pressure, listen to lungs, bathe a person who is bed-bound, even change sheets while someone is in the bed. I’ve done many things that were difficult to do, either physically or emotionally. But the single hardest thing I’ve ever done in my caregiving life was to buy a Valentine’s Day card for my dying uncle to give his wife.
History of Valentine's Day
He had never missed getting a card for her in all the years they’d been together. One year, when she had been out of town with a group on Valentine’s Day, he actually faxed the card to her at the hotel, so she’d be sure to have at least a copy of it on the right day.
He had already asked her to pick out a special piece of jewelry and get it for herself as his gift to her – but he wanted to give her a card, too. He knew he did not have much longer to live, and didn’t want to let her down, even though he was stuck in a hospital bed and had no way to get one. So off I go to the sentimental card shop, to find a card that says everything he wants to say to her.
Most people don’t really think about it, but the majority of such cards have a sentiment based upon “forever”. Your love is a love that “gets better every year”. You “want to spend your life with” this person you love. You will “grow old together” in your mutual love. You will “never stop loving each other”… This is not something that a person whose spouse is dying really wants to receive. Too much emphasis on “always” and not enough on “now” is really heartbreaking when “now” is all you have.
I had no clue how hard this would be. Reading all those cards that talked about “forever” – and knowing that he had such a short time to live… it broke my heart. There is no telling what the clerks and other customers thought, while I went through card after card, tears streaming down my face, trying to find one that just talked about NOW, and not “all our tomorrows”. Knowing that this would be the last card, the last gift he ever gave her, knowing that he loved her so much, and wanting to find something to express that love without promising a future that would never be.
I did finally find the “right” card, and he was still able to sign his name to it. So on Valentine’s Day, when my aunt gave him a sweet card and showed him the heart pendant she’d gotten as her gift from him, he was able to surprise her with a card of his own, signed in his own hand, the very last thing she expected to receive. He was so proud of himself, and of me, for surprising her that way!
My uncle died exactly one week later. She told me that the card meant so much more to her than the jewelry, and she still keeps it. This year is the 15th anniversary of his death, so in a few days, I will travel the 200 miles to be with her on this date, and make sure she is not alone. It will be a time of reflection for both of us.
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Meet Judy Morton
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