In a fit of domesticity and love for my family, many years ago I purchased a heart-shaped cake pan around Valentine's Day. A homemade cake -- its physical form the very symbol of love -- seemed a good way to show my feelings for them on this day celebrating affection.
The first year I baked a pineapple upside down cake. I had never made one before but a can of pineapples in the cupboard inspired me. The cake was a success so became a Valentine's Day tradition.
Future efforts depended on which day of the week was Feb. 14. The first time it fell on a Saturday, I made a coffee cake for breakfast. The children grew up and I would like to say they continued my tradition in their own homes, but alas they have instituted their own customs. But I kept baking those heart-shaped cakes for my hubby and me.
The year Jim was dying, 2014, I did not pull out the pan. We barely acknowledged Valentine's Day, our anniversary or any other holiday. A profound sorrow and longing brought our emotions too close to the surface, and we carried on in a daze, doing what needed to be done and drawing happiness from the small things in life and our remaining months together.
Yes, after 47 years of marriage, he faced the end of a life he had enjoyed tremendously and I faced widowhood. Our new normal was interacting with chemo nurses and looking forward to the wholesome fare sold at a sandwich stand in the hospital corridor. We laughed ruefully at this turn in our lives -- we who had dined at fine tables in the major capitals of the world -- as we shared this last part of his journey.
Jim died May 9, two days before Mother's Day. Somehow I had not anticipated the ensuing disorientation. Every aspect of my life changed, from sleeping to waking to eating to thinking. I was so sad -- not depressed or despairing, but profoundly sad, a simple word yet the one that seemed best to describe the heavy feeling in my heart and my head as I grieved.
In confusion, I kept expecting Jim to come walking into the room. Where was he? What had happened? I had witnessed his physical decline over five months, gone to innumerable medical appointments, dealt with his pain and shared his daily concerns but was not prepared for the unbearable absence in my life when the end inexorably arrived and he was gone. Nothing came naturally any longer; life required concentration.
Gradually feelings returned. The house and yard made their demands, and I depended on YouTube to acquire skills for maintenance done for decades by Jim. I tackled the taxes, yuck, not formerly my purview. Joy in my children and grandchildren were at the forefront although this also felt lonely since it was not joy shared with their father/grandfather.
The years have brought healing but certain things still trigger sorrow and longing. How he would have loved this year's Super Bowl -- except for the outcome. Holidays and other life events will forever be bittersweet.
But even without Jim, Valentine's Days continued to arrive, which I celebrate by sending cards to the grandkids. At first, I would view happy old couples in public with bitterness. Why were they growing old with their partners and not me? Did they even appreciate what they had? Now old couples just make me sad because one of them will at some point be left alone, heartbroken.
But this column is really a love story. My grief was only possible because of the happiness of my long marriage. I have been incredibly lucky in my life, from when and where I was born, to meeting my husband, marrying at 20 and continuing to mature together, and raising two healthy children. I am sorry fate prevented us from growing old as a couple but looking back over my love-filled life, I cannot complain.
My heart-shaped pan remains in the cupboard. It is no longer used to bake cakes but I keep it for the memories -- of fun desserts served to my family and later to my dear appreciative husband, forever my Valentine.