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“These days, I choose to celebrate February 14th as a day of love.”

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By Vivian Stapleton

Our very first overseas trip as a family was quickly approaching—there were only three more days until we would be boarding a plane to Italy. My two adult children, my husband, and I were sending excited texts back and forth in anticipation. My husband’s suitcase was half packed, his first-ever, brand-new passport ready for use.

In one single instant, everything changed.

The phone rang the morning of 4/17/15, and the woman speaking said she had witnessed a car accident. She said she was calling on behalf of my husband, Ron, who was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. By the time I reached the hospital, he was already gone. My husband of 28 years was gone. In one single instant, everything changed.

I came to find out later that the accident was caused by a young man who was distracted by his phone as he was sending and receiving congratulatory messages about a great new job he had just landed.

I always knew my husband was a well-loved man. Although not at all the life of the party, his quick wit, generous nature (he gave up countless Saturdays helping friends and family with moves, handyman work, repairs, etc.), and big heart made him “our rock.”

Through months of counseling, reading, PTSD therapy, and grief groups, I knew I had to figure out a way to make sense of what had happened. I needed to figure out who I was if I was no longer Ron’s wife. I needed to honor everything Ron meant to the world. I needed to make sure my kids were okay, and were processing their grief somehow. 

I needed an Option B.

We made it through all of the “firsts” without him, finding ways to honor him and keep his memory alive. On his birthday, we toasted him at his favorite restaurant. On Father’s Day, we went to the local driving range and attempted to hit a bucket of balls. Because we are not golfers, balls were flying everywhere! On major holidays, we keep him present by lighting a special candle for him. My daughter honors his memory by learning to do many of the household repairs and larger DIY renovation projects on her own condominium. My son has embodied my husband’s kindness and calm nature, and makes sure I’m okay. When we travel, the little toolkit Ron had packed for Italy comes with us.

My hope is that with each Valentine’s Day, we become a little stronger and a little more capable of spreading around some of that love we’ve been left with.

On my first Valentine’s Day without him, I needed a way to still hear his voice. I pored through all the cards he had given me over the years and found a quote from him, in his own handwriting, that I had made into a bracelet I wear daily. It says: “God, I love it when you smile. Love forever, Ron.” Whenever I want to retreat from the world, or get scared I can’t do this without him, I glance down at my wrist and know he’d want me to do something to make me smile. These days, I choose to celebrate February 14th as a day of love. I send cards and notes to family and close friends to let them know I am sending them love. What better way to honor someone who left me in the middle of a sea of love that he created, in large part, simply by being his own humorous, humble, helpful self? My hope is that with each Valentine’s Day, we become a little stronger and a little more capable of spreading around some of that love we’ve been left with.  

Grief & Loss Bouncing forward Building resilience Family Finding joy Finding meaning Loss of partner Supporting others Women Holidays
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