I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day. All that pressure to do something romantic. And now that I’m alone, well frankly I’m glad when this day is over. The best thing about today is the return of American Idol on ABC.
When my late husband Fred was alive and well, he did people’s taxes as a second job. Feb. 14 falls in the middle of tax season. He was buried in papers, and the phone rang constantly. Not a good time to take a holiday, but he was a romantic guy, and he tried.
After we moved to Oregon in July 1996, he kept his tax practice in California and spent late January through the end of March in San Jose, which meant I was usually alone on Valentine’s Day.
There was that one year when I drove down, and Fred went overboard, taking me to a ritzy restaurant in Los Gatos where it was so crowded it took forever to get our food and the prices were so crazy I was afraid to order what I really wanted. He was stewing about all the returns waiting for his attention, and I really wanted to watch the men’s Olympic figure skating finals on TV. We decided not to try that again. But that was back when we had no idea what was coming.
By 2002, he was showing signs of memory loss and confusion, but his Alzheimer’s was not officially diagnosed until November 2004. In January 2009, his condition had worsened to the point he could no longer live at home. He died in April 2011. But in between, there were still some precious times. I share these excerpts from my not-yet-published memoir “Alzheimered.”
2006: It was late, and Fred was already in bed. As I reread my Valentine’s Day card for him before leaving it at his place on the table, I cried. It was an emotional card that talked of our deep love over the years carrying us through the good and bad and always there to keep us going forever. I had to put the card down and walk away to keep from getting it wet with my tears.
The next morning, after a series of nightmares, I dragged myself out to the kitchen. At my place on the table, I saw a folded sheet of paper. It was a beautiful note of love for the things I do and thanks and appreciation for the hugs and kisses. It ended “Be My Valentine” and was signed by Fred, with a heart.
I met him in the hall. “Better than a store-bought card,” I said, stepping over the dog to embrace him. He began to cry. I urged him to open my card, which made him cry harder. We held each other, both weeping.
“I love you so,” he said.
“I love you. Please forgive me when my voice is harsh, when I lose my patience.”
After breakfast, Fred went out to buy me flowers.
A dozen red roses. Velvety, deep red, the stems green, the leaves soft and healthy. A moment of sweetness as I trimmed the stems, put the roses in water and set the crystal vase on the table.
“Those look good there,” Fred said.
A moment later, he frowned. “Do you have my card?”
His debit card. No. He searched his wallet and his pockets. He searched the truck. The card was gone. “I’m useless,” he muttered.
“No, you’re not. It could happen to anyone.”
But when a man has Alzheimer’s, I’m sure he would like to do something completely right at least once in a while.
Weeks later, after I had canceled our cards and ordered new ones, I would find the missing debit card in Fred’s shirt pocket.
On Valentine’s Day in 2007, I assumed Fred wouldn’t realize what day it was. I hadn’t gotten him anything except a silly card. At breakfast, Fred set at my place a beautiful card with words of love that made me cry and a box of four jewel-like chocolate truffles from the candy factory near the Yaquina Bridge. Each the size and shape of an egg, they were decorated with sprinkles, one light chocolate, one dark, one green with mint inside, and one red with cherry filling.
He had written on the card “I love you so much.” He once had beautiful handwriting, but now the letters were shaky. It didn’t matter. The gift had to be his idea because his caregivers didn’t know about the candy factory or that I loved those little boxes of truffles.
“I didn’t get you a present,” I said.
“You’re my present,” he replied.
“God, I love you.”
Dr. Seuss wrote: Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”
It did happen. It was beautiful. I am so lucky to have had Fred.
I wonder if the candy store by the bridge has any of those truffles left.
Happy Valentine’s Day, dear friends. Give your sweety a big hug and kiss and enjoy your day.
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