Today is Valentine’s Day. Tonight when I get home, my dear husband will greet me with a cocktail and a kiss. The dogs will mug me, push against me and beat me with wagging tails. We’ll have a simple dinner of homemade chili and corn bread and talk about our day. It will be sweet and romantic and filled with a quiet love; a wonderful way to celebrate. But although I couldn’t ask for a more loving and loved partner to share the day with, I’ll be missing another special Valentine.
The past few weeks, I’ve had emails from Pro Flowers and 1-800-Flowers telling me that Valentine’s Day was coming, reminding me that I might want to send flowers to Aunt Mary. That was our special thing, sending flowers to each other. She would send flowers to my office for my birthday. (“Nobody sees them if I send them to your house. This way, they see what a big shot you are.”). I would send her flowers for her birthday, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Easter. Sometimes I’d add candy or a balloon or a stuffed animal. She always acted like she had just won the lottery. (“ Did you see what my niece sent me? Mary Ann sent these. Aren’t they beautiful?”)
My Aunt Mary and I always had a close relationship. She was my Mother’s younger sister and lived upstairs from us with my Grandmother. We were partners in crime. She encouraged me to draw and make projects. We made snowmen out of Cheer detergent and Christmas ornaments out of walnut shells. She took me to Central Park Zoo and the circus and the rodeo. If there was something fun to do or someplace interesting to go, she took me. In my teen years, we were like girlfriends, talking fashion and make-up and hair styles. As an adult, we were companions, often traveling together. She never married or had children. I guess I filled those needs for her.
When my mother died almost twenty years ago, I felt grief that was compounded by the death of my husband eighteen months later. My relationship with both of them had been stormy and the grief was complicated and entangled. I have friends who talk about how much they miss their dead mothers but I never felt that. My grief was about things left unresolved and how I felt I’d never been enough for her.
My Aunt was different. She always had my back. She was the only one in my family who ever stood up for me against my late husband. That was why it was so difficult for me the last two years of her life. As she slid into dementia, she became aggressive and combative with me. I didn’t understand at the time what was happening to her and the pain caused by her anger and rejection was crushing. At some point though, as she slipped deeper into that twilight space, her true fun-loving personality came back. The bitterness and anger were replaced with a joyful excitement about everything again. There were times though, when she wouldn’t recognize me. I’d hold her hand and she’d say, “ My niece Mary Ann is coming. Is she here yet. You have to meet her. She is so wonderful, so good to me.” “Aunt Mary,” I’d say, “It’s me. It’s Mary Ann.” “Oh that’s my niece’s name too. She’s a good girl. You’ll like her.” That’s a bittersweet way to hear how much someone loves you.
And now I understand my friends who miss their mothers. That’s how I miss my Aunt. If you were here with me Aunt Mary, I’d have flowers for you and chocolates and a bottle of champagne and we’d dance together in the kitchen. Happy Valentine’s Day Aunt Mary. I miss you and until we meet again, I’ll dream you flowers and dance with you in my heart.