I absolutely love the colour red. Scarlet. Ruby. I love it all. Passion, fiery, love.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
On this particular one I’m looking back:
five years, fifty.
I was nervous and excited, both all at once, as we drove to the college. I was taking the course online, Creative Writing, but I still had to show up and report to the Accessibility office to write the exams.
A grammar test, on my 26th birthday? I love writing but have never loved learning all the rules of grammar. This was no birthday present.
Along with the feelings of excitement at my birthday dinner, waiting for me on return from the dreaded grammar exam, there was something else: apprehension, but not at anything grammar related.
My grandfather had been ill for a while. As we drove we received a call on my phone that he wasn’t doing well at all. It all went downhill from there.
He had been on his own for nearly five whole years without her. I often wondered how he did it. I don’t mean how did he manage to survive and feed himself without her, but how does anyone truly go on without the one person they spent almost every moment with for over half a century?
Ruby red, like the jewel, rare and one-of-a-kind like she was to him.
She was his Ruby.
They had been married for fifty-five years and had been together for nearly sixty. On this Valentine’s Day and every Valentine’s Day since he died, I think about the meaning of this day.
He did fairly well on his own, at first, in that little house they shared for almost twenty of their married years together. It was the only house I remember them in. It was strange to suddenly go to visit him there, to see how he was making do with looking after himself because she once did so much, but they had been a team.
He cooked his meals and kept himself busy with friends and family. We spent time with him as often as we possibly could, but she was gone and he and the rest of us, we missed her.
After five years of being a widow, he had suffered multiple strokes, his eyesight worsening with each one.
After sharing a driver’s education manual with his sixteen-year-old granddaughter, he passed his renewal driver’s test on his eightieth birthday, but he wouldn’t drive for long after that.
By this particular February, his last, he had been living in a retirement home for a while. He’d given up his little house he’d shared with her and seemed to settle in rather nicely in his new place of residence.
He had a spacious private room and the small table and chairs from their house had been placed by his one window. HE still liked to sit there and watch the birds and the squirrels, one of his favourite pastimes.
Occasionally he would still, even after a few strokes, take his cane and walk around the neighbourhood he now lived in.
I enjoyed having him there on Christmas morning once or twice and the drives out to pick him up for the day, for dinner, they were always enjoyable. He made the time pass with his stories of visitors he’d had that week or jokes he liked to tell.
But now here we were, on my birthday, and only days away from Valentine’s Day and things weren’t looking promising. He was having fluid issues with his heart and I had a feeling that this could be it for him and for our time with him.
It was strange, seeing him lying there. I can’t even really recall the last time I spoke to him and what our conversation was. That makes me feel deeply sad because I usually pride myself on my dependable memory, especially for things like this.
All I do remember is leaving the hospital: on a cold, winter night. All the memories I do have of him and hospitals where he actually was somewhat his usual self, they are blended and muddled.
On one of the last days we visited, but he wasn’t at all like he used to be, no going back.
I remember the sound his breathing made, gasping for breath, as we sat tensely, tapping our feet in that small hospital room. I could feel a cold coming on, a sore throat, as I sat and waited…for what?
For the end?
My parents kept more of a vigil by his bedside, along with my uncles.
I went on with my life, in a strange way, as we all unwillingly waited for the inevitable. I celebrated Valentine’s Day the night before, by going to a movie with my boyfriend; all normal Valentine’s Day stuff, but my heart just wasn’t in it.
I awoke, on Sunday morning, February 14th, and got ready to go out for breakfast when my parents arrived to bring the bad news we all knew was coming.
HE was gone. He had passed away four years and six months after my grandmother, on Valentine’s Day and on my cousin’s birthday, missing mine by four days.
Of course it really didn’t make a difference, but whatever you believe, I choose to believe he left to be with his love, not wishing to spend even one more Valentine’s Day without her.
On this day I choose, not to focus on my own heart and loss or lack of love, but to focus on the love they shared.
In the end, with all the red roses and the red hearts of Valentine’s Day out there, it was his Ruby that he wanted to spend Valentine’s Day with.
I am a storyteller, a lover of stories and yes, even romance. I like to look past all the commercialization of this day and remember their love for one another and how they grew up together: in a sense, how they became the love story they’ve come to symbolize for me.
It will always be a romance story in my head, when I think of the two of them.
Picture a little girl, age four, with pigtails. At least, that’s how my grandfather used to tell the story.
Then picture two boys, age eight, one of them being this little girl’s older brother. The two friends are playing together, leaving the little girl to herself.
Jump ahead twelve or so years and that little girl in pigtails is now sixteen and her brother’s friend is twenty.
They date for four years and then are married.
Five children, twenty-one grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren and counting later.
I think of those two little children, and how they met and how their love grew, when I need to believe in the power and the magic of love. It’s on days like today that I need this image the most and it makes me smile.
So today I wish to recognize the man we lost that day and to honour the love of a lifetime: better, to me, than any fictional love story I’ve yet read. I hope I can find a love even half as devoted and true as theirs.