It wasn’t until I hurried into the card shop to buy a birthday card for my brother that I realized I was going to be solo for Valentine’s Day this year. Mr. Fab had made travel plans and when he’d asked if we had any conflicts on the calendar for those days, I’d said no.
The thing is, we really don’t make a big fuss out of Valentine’s Day. We don’t join the throngs of couples in local restaurants and we often poo-poo the whole thing as over-commercialized nonsense. But now that we couldn’t celebrate together, the occasion suddenly seemed more important and I was disappointed we’d be spending the day alone.
I’ve always had an odd relationship with Valentine’s Day. As a girl, I loved it. The British custom of giving cards was a little different to the U.S. custom of handing cards to everyone you care about—friends, siblings, parents, and teachers. Growing up, Valentine’s cards were sent anonymously, an annual chance for secret admirers to overcome awkwardness and tell someone they fancied them. The fun came in using detective skills, analyzing postmarks and handwriting to guess the identity of the sender, both of which the truly bashful worked hard to disguise.
There was a fly in my romantic ointment. My dad hated Valentine’s Day. His father had died on February 14th several years before I was born, and my dad didn’t even like to hear word of any joy on that day. I was sad about my granddad’s death, but I’d never even met him and it didn’t seem fair that my happiness should have to suffer. I also suspected that my dad might be using it as an excuse to express his displeasure at his young daughter being courted by boys. So, on Valentine’s morning, I’d listen for the postman and sneak downstairs to rescue my cards before my dad could rain on my parade.
Only years later did I come to understand how hard that day must have been for my dad. No matter how much time passes and how well we do with moving past our grief, anniversaries can remain painful for a long time, even more so when they fall on days when others are celebrating.
Had I been older or had the benefit of hindsight, I might have reached out for my dad, instead of being annoyed at his grumpiness. I might have suggested we go the cemetery on Valentine’s Day and taken my granddad a red rose. It’s too late for that now, but the experience has made me aware that, for people grieving lost loved ones, or those spending the day alone, it might not always be a happy Valentine’s Day.