• author
    • Cathy Speck

      Columnist, Photographer
    • February 14, 2014 in Columnists

    Unopened Valentine

    Dear readers (iPeeps!):

    If you don’t already know “my story” I suggest you read my bio before you run smack into this column, expecting something traditional about Valentine’s Day.

    I’ve been working on this column for two weeks, but the problem is not writer’s block, it’s more like writer’s diarrhea. I have so much to say about what Valentine’s Day brings to me, but much of the story must remain anonymous. Well, “must” is a loaded concept here — I chose not to use our names. No good will come from digging up the sorrow that we buried years ago. We closed that lid and covered it with flowers.

    I’ve said too much already without saying much of anything. That dang writer’s diarrhea – my cup runneth over with nothing short and sweet. Well, this is short compared to usual columns, but it is not sweet, not even bittersweet.

    I won’t use the word “diarrhea” anymore in a silly way  – it’s  time to get serious and leave my gallows and bathroom humor behind. Nope, even though I’m tempted, I will not play with my “behind.”

    I hope this column is easier to read than it was to write.  After editing and more editing, it morphed into “Tragic Valentine’s Love Stories for Dummies,” or “How to Walk away from your laptop for Dummies.”  The full story could easily be a best seller nonfiction book. But the more I wrote in this column, the more I had to delete out of respect for others affected.

    She was older than I and she was my idol when we were kids. She was so smart, kind, likable, lovable and an excellent athlete who was tall and thin, with no acne. Even my own friends would drift over toward her when we were playing in our yard or in our house. I was the “captain” and boss of everything and everyone, but she didn’t need to be loud or “in charge. ” Her vibe was so inviting and gentle, the neighborhood kids just did what she suggested or she would just quietly start on her own.

    February 13, 1997 

    We knew she was struggling as she moved closer to her core. The memories, some real, some too painful to know the difference, weakened her physical heart that was already broken. Why did she keep trying when getting better meant being vulnerable? That night she seemed weak and tired and barely giggled at my funny stories. She looked depleted from diarrhea and from something else – something felt empty, vague.

    After she fell asleep, we brought in dozens the of roses in a vast array of royal reds and pink, boxes of the finest chocolate, toffee, indescribably addicting gourmet caramel popcorn, and we put Budweiser in the fridge to chill as cold as she liked it.

    During the previous four years, she created something akin to an adult-sized crib for herself on her bed, lined with more than 20 Teddy Bears.  Some stayed in bed with her and the others sat in their own special places so she’d always see at least one friendly Teddy. They all had their own names and histories, and they each had a Happy Valentine’s Day card to give her. In the wee hours on this Valentine’s morning, her Teddy Bear family grew by 20 new Teddy Bear friends who wanted to be named and loved and safe.

    We expected her to open her eyes in the morning and be innocently surprised . The flowers, candy and Teddy Bears would embrace her from all corners of her room. When she woke up she would see and smell love, comfort and adoration. She’d smile similar to the way a 6-year-old would smile and later, her thirst would be quenched by an ice cold Bud just as she liked it.

    February 14, 1997

    We expected her to open her eyes in the morning and be surprised with pink-cheeked delight, her eyebrows arched,  accentuating her sweetness of heart. But she was deeply sound sleep,  so we didn’t bother her. We made veggie omelets with extra cheese and meatless sausage that smelled delicious – surely the aroma would wake her up. I went inside her room and tussled her hair, it’s very fine like mine. Then I touched her cheek.  She was cold, too cold. I shook her shoulders and shouted for someone to call 911. I tried to find a pulse in her neck. She was already stiff. Cold. Stiff. Lifeless. Without soul.

    So much for expectations.

    Flat Line Valentine

    At the viewing, I waited until everyone else had their chance to do whatever people do when they look in the casket. I know what I do, but come to think about it,  I’ve never asked people what they do when they’re “viewing.” I tussled her hair just like I did on Valentine’s Day morning. My hands trembled as I took off my guardian angel crystal necklace and I put it on her folded hands.  I didn’t count how many of her Teddy Bears shared the casket with her, but they all seemed happy and comfortable and safe.

    I loved her so much. She was my idol. I wanted to be like her. Everywhere she went men, women and kids loved her. Then it all came shattering down. Where did she go, long before she died ?

    My Silent Valentine

    October 21, 1956  —  February 14, 1997

    The photo is mine. I made an “altar” for a friend of mine who just died two weeks ago. She died just a few hours after we left (she was in hospice.) While we were there, Mazie (our dog/monkey) jumped up on her bed and kissed Auntie Jean’s cheek – face – over and over again. She had been unresponsive for a day or two before she died. But she did pull her arm/hand out of her blanket and held my hand after Mazie kissed her.  Wow!

    Cathy Speck AJ 4 angel


    • Beautiful story told with love.

      • Maya North

      • February 14, 2014 at 11:52 pm
      • Reply

      My mind tries to encompass the magnitude of this loss. I am human and as we all will or have, I have walked these paths of grief, but to lose such a sweet spirit… XXXOOO

    • Cathy, you and your family have had more than your fair share of sadness and grief. May they find a cure for this horrific disease before it breaks any more hearts.

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