I wanted to be her Valentine.
A wonderful group of college peers had pulled together enough cash to let me fly home to see her. Back then, tickets were cheaper if you bought them 17 days in advance, so I counted my days and bought my ticket.
For Valentine’s Day.
Bags packed, I had a plan. My newlywed husband would drive me to school, we’d attend chapel, then he’d put me on a plane, and I’d surprise her as her Valentine. Or maybe she would be mine.
Ahhh…best laid plans and all of that…
I missed her by just a few hours.
They pulled me out of chapel. We were sitting several seats in, listening to the conclusion, and suddenly my neighbor tapped me. Because she’d been tapped by her neighbor who’d been tapped by her neighbor who’d been tapped by her neighbor. All started by the woman bowing in the aisle. The assistant dean.
She beckoned. I looked over my shoulder to make sure she didn’t want me to tap my neighbor. But that would have been my husband. She meant me.
And somehow I knew.
I stood up and started the excuse me, excuse me of all theater seating when you have to climb out of center spots. But chapel ended, and suddenly everyone was up. We made it to the aisle, my husband and I, but the crush of 2200 students had my arm flailing behind me, desperately grasping for his hand while trying to keep sight of the woman ahead.
All the while wishing she would disappear and we could go back to the plan.
She kept walking. Silently.
Out the chapel doors. Down the sidewalk. Down the cobblestone street. All the way to the dean’s office. We entered the room, just steps into it.
Like we could just step right back out.
And she spoke with that look of compassion. “Your father called. Your mother passed away.”
How fast was that turn? From my husband at my back to my face in his chest. Shoulders cradled by his arms. I imagine it would have been Olympic worthy on the ice rink. The perfect “about face” on the marching band field.
If he hadn’t been there? I would have just as quickly dropped to the floor. But I didn’t because he held me.
Held me then and held me again at our apartment as I repacked my bag, taking out all those outfits that were supposed to be comfortable and carefree for a surprise visit home, trying to replace them with clothes for a funeral.
And again when I walked into the living room to find I-don’t-know-what only to realize I had no idea what I needed. So I halted in the center of the room. And sobbed.
They say the days-after often follow in a blur. Not for me.
I remember each moment. Each scene. Like a slow-motion viewer of a DVD player.
The 2-hr plane trip down where the dad behind me let his kid kick my seat over and over and over while he flirted with the stewardess—and his wife fumed (with their other children) in the row across the aisle.
The house full of people who were sitting on the couch and in the dining room and around the kitchen. All there to comfort, a Christian version of sitting shiva, an honoring of my mother. But it just made me feel like I had to serve them.
The first step through the front door. Smacked with the emptiness. There would be no more hugs from Mom.
We’ve lived twenty-six Valentine’s since that year. I am now a mom myself, some of my kids older than I was when I lost her.
Does time heal all wounds?
A few months after Mom died, a friend asked me how I was doing, if I had more good days than bad. When I questioned what defined each, she said, “Oh, good days would be when you don’t cry so much.”
But I disagreed. No, the good days were when you could cry. The bad? When you were too numb to feel.
The tears were therapeutic.
All these years later, I don’t need the tears so much. But Mom is never too far from my mind. When I want to tell her about something good that happened. When I want to tell her about something bad.
And on Valentine’s, a good cry helps.
I could stop there, and I believe God would understand. We weren’t created to deal with death. Separation hurts. And even Christ wept at Lazarus’ tomb.
I have learned to take some time. To remember her. To reflect the loss.
But, interestingly, even in the memories, in the darkness and the ache, flickers of light always hover in my peripheral vision. Like one of those machines at the drivers’ license place where they ask you to identify the flash. “There.” “There.” “There.”
Easy to miss if you forget and accidentally close both eyes.
Those flickers where, even in the midst of my failed plan, God was working through it.
Because I wasn’t alone.
Every other day of that school year, I took our one car and drove myself the hour commute to my classes.
But that day, my husband was with me. He was with me at chapel. With me in the dean’s office. And with me for the long drive back to repack.
The call came at just the right time.
This was the early 90’s, and telephones were tied to walls. So, a call just a few minutes later would have missed me; I would have headed to the airport with no knowledge of what I was walking into.
I was in just the right place.
The dean couldn’t simply walk around campus and expect to find me—EXCEPT during chapel. It wasn’t scheduled every day and didn’t even last an hour. But that’s where I was when the call came. In my assigned seat.
Finally—and this one was the most amazing—we “bumped into” just the right person.
By my original plan, my husband was going to drop me off at the airport 45-min northeast and drive home. But now we were both flying out. We were young newlyweds, I, an undergrad senior, my husband in grad school, living on love and $25 a week for groceries. We didn’t have money for a week’s worth of long-term parking. Didn’t have money for a taxi.
We needed someone to take us.
But we lived an hour WEST from school. Our closest family, my in-laws, lived forty-five minutes SOUTH. One big insurmountable triangle, especially when we had to repack and catch a plane. And let’s just go ahead and make that triangle more complicated—we had no way to reach them because, again, no cell phones. And they worked an hour EAST of it all!
Only that day, it turned out, my father-in-law DIDN’T go to work.
Instead, he happened to choose that day to drive forty-five minutes NORTH to a particular grocery store for a particular item—which happened to be in the same town as my college.
There we sat in the travel agency, trying to figure logistics, when my husband suddenly raced out the door. Because outside the window, there was his dad. Walking on the sidewalk.
His dad was able to drive us to the airport—right after his mom gave me a hug. Boy, that hug felt good!
Yes, God had a plan.
The day was dark, and it was so hard knowing I missed my mom by a few hours, but the Lord kept flickering His light.
I Am here. I haven’t left you.
And there were other small rays. A sweet friend already arranged to pick me up once we landed.
And all those people in the house helped us function, some of them organizing paperwork that none of us wanted to concentrate on.
The flirty guy on the plane? I’m sorry, nothing made him look better. He was just awful.
All I can say is God kept me from turning around and letting the man have it. Believe me, I thought of it—with every kick of my seat by his ignored child. But I didn’t do it.
Only by God’s grace.
And there it is. The biggest part of God’s plan that flashes HOPE in the midst of the pain. His Grace.
On that Valentine’s Day, death and loss sat kicking my chair. And it hurt. Because Life—and love—are precious.
But Christ unseated death. And promised new life. So, while time can’t heal all wounds, Christ can.
And that day, He did. My mom’s.
Maybe not in the way I envisioned. Maybe not how I wished. But He was there. And that day, He healed her.
Just on the other side of heaven.
Where she has enjoyed her days ever since. Without pain, without sadness, without tears. In the presence of Her Savior.
And one day I will see her again. What a blaze of Joy that will be!
Do I miss her? Definitely. Do I still sometimes cry? Yes. I’m not in heaven yet. And on that Valentine’s Day 26 years ago, it would have been sweet to walk in and surprise her.
But I have to admit, she got a better gift. Her Valentine was Jesus. He held out His nail-pierced hands, pulled her into His arms, and said,
Even with your eyes closed, you can’t miss that sweetness.
Song of Solomon 6:3
“I am My beloved’s and My beloved is Mine”
Are you hurting today, friend? I’d love to hear your story. And you might also appreciate reading When God Cried… I wrote the poem there after this loss.