My husband Jim never bought me flowers on Valentine’s Day. He would buy them before or after, and often throughout the rest of the year, but he resented the price markup on Valentine’s Day. Candy, yes. Flowers, no.
I didn’t care. I was sure about his feelings for me.
Jim, who died of pancreatic cancer in December 2010, often would say every day was Valentine’s Day for the two of us. He was married to the love of his life, his best friend and his soulmate. So was I, so I think he was right for the most part.
I loved coming home to flowers — always a dozen red roses. Sometimes he would include a simple card and would write a few words; most often he would have the flowers carefully arranged in a vase, placed strategically where I would discover them.
I could almost always tell the minute I walked into the house when he had flowers for me because he was like a little boy on Christmas morning. He couldn’t wait for me to find them. Once I showed appropriate appreciation, he would analyze them for me.
In Jim’s younger days, he worked for a florist, so he understood how to detect freshness and the blooms that would last longer. Rosebuds should be tight at the base, he would tell me. The ones that feel loose and squishy will fall apart quickly. If they are tight at the base, they will bloom more slowly and last longer. He then would tell me how this particular bouquet would fare.
I can hear this litany so plainly in my head, but I think it wells from my heart. I don’t know how many times I heard it, but loved it every time and lent it proper reverence as he showed me on one of the flowers what to look for.
I can barely believe I will never come home to flowers from him again. It was such a special piece of our life together, it doesn’t seem possible it’s only a memory. It doesn’t feel real.
When I see the few dried specimens from some of the bouquets that had special meaning around my house, I feel so many emotions: deep sadness that I will never again come home to fresh red roses lovingly arranged by Jim; joy at the memory of receiving roses just because he loved me; anger that our time together was cut short by pancreatic cancer; and just bereft.
Odd how a simple memory of flowers can bring back the sensation of being cleaved in two that I felt when Jim died.
Odd how the sight of a red rose, which is my favorite flower, can twist my gut into knots as it evokes those many, many happy memories.
So many conflicting emotions wrapped up in those tightly bound petals perched on a single stem.
I’d occasionally buy red roses for Jim too. Not nearly as often as he bought them for me, but I think he was more of a romantic than I am. He would analyze those flowers too and praise me for picking out nice flowers, but in deference to my feelings, didn’t criticize them if I didn’t. I loved him for that too.
I still buy roses for Jim. Only instead of carefully arranging them in a vase with a loving message on a card and putting them in the living room where he can find them, I lay one on the cold stone of his grave marker from which nothing can grow, and say a prayer for our souls.
Somehow that physical expression of my love for Jim makes his burial place more bearable.
At least that’s what I tell myself.