Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the day we celebrate romantic love. Couples will exchange kisses. They’ll gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes over candle-lit dinners. Many will get engaged. Bouquets of roses and boxes of chocolates will be given.
Today I celebrate a higher order of love. This love is not expressed with cards or chocolate, but with bitter tears. This type of love is messy, sad, and complicated. It’s what remains when falling in love happened a million years ago, and maybe it’s even what remains after we’ve fallen out of love. It sears us with pain. We should all be so lucky to experience it.
My dear friend’s husband died yesterday. When she first met him, there was a lightness in her step, a twinkle in her eye, and a quiet joy that I’d never seen in her before. On their wedding day the look of adoration in her husband’s eyes brought tears to my own. He looked as if he couldn’t believe his luck to be standing next to this amazing woman. The words he spoke during their vows reassured me that he knew her worth. He understood who she was and truly, deeply appreciated the person who was joining her life to his.
That was then, and it was beautiful. In these past few months, my friend’s husband became so ill that he slept most of the time. My friend’s days revolved around his pain management. They made plans not for the future, but for the end. They met with hospice workers. They discussed funeral arrangements. The twinkle in my friend’s eye was long gone, and had been replaced by sad resignation. Pill bottles, delirium, mental and physical exhaustion are not beautiful, and yet this formed the backdrop of a scene of pure and exquisite love that surpassed any romantic love they shared in the salad days of their relationship. So today, the day before Valentine’s Day, I celebrate this love and the fact that my friend’s husband was blessed to experience it as he left this world, and that my friend had the strength, courage, and love to give him this gift above all gifts.