Valentine’s Day is one of my very favorite days. I blame my mom. She loved Valentine’s Day, not for any romantic reasons. She loved getting us little goodies. This week, as I have been putting together ideas for my kids’ goodies, I’ve thought back on the gifts my mom gave me. When I was in maybe third grade, my oldest daughter’s age, I woke up to find what every little girl my age wanted- a Caboodles kit. All of my friends had a HUGE Caboodles, with compartments that flipped over, opened up, and slid behind. Teal, blue, and purple, no bigger than a small tissue box, and one little tray I could take in and out- mine was in the shape of a heart. And it was filled with red, pink and white M&Ms. We didn’t have the money for much extra, but my mom made sure I still got a Caboodles. I’ve kept it all these years, and now my girls play with it. Another year, when I was maybe 19 and working as an orthodontic assistant, my mom asked to come see me at work real quick. Our relationship was struggling badly, to put it nicely…. yet she still made a point to make me feel special on Valentine’s Day. She came back to the clinic area and gifted me Lindt truffles and a box of Emily’s chocolate dipped fortune telling cookies. She got the biggest kick out of finding a brand with my name on it to give to me. I’ll never forget her face when I took that box out of the gift bag. She was so proud of herself. I’m laughing out loud as I type this, and shaking my head. She was a mess.
Goodies aside, there was one Valentine’s Day that she gave me and my brother and sister the best gift possible. It wasn’t anything she could find at the store, it didn’t come in a gift bag with red tissue paper. On February 14, 2011 my precious mom went to be with her Savior.
Below is an excerpt from her CaringBridge page that I had written the evening of her passing.
Yesterday evening I was pulling my things together to go see my kids for the first time in two and a half days. Mary, my favorite nurse, came in for shift-change around 7. She asked if I was leaving and I told her I was just going to give my kids a kiss goodnight, but would wait until she took Mom’s vitals before I left. Diane, one of our favorite Nurse Techs, wheeled in the little vital cart. I grabbed Mom’s hand- “Mama, Diane’s just going to take your blood pressure. It’s going to squeeze for just a minute, then it will be done.” After a minute of the familiar hum of the cuff tightening and loosening, the machine beeped and it tried a second time. Two more of those and Diane dropped her head. “I ain’t gonna lie to you, baby. That’s not a good sign.” She went to get Mary, who brought in the old fashioned BP pump to get Mom’s vitals manually. Two times she tried, when she looked at me and lovingly told me “It will be soon.” I looked up at the doorway and caught my Dad’s eye- I told him to go see my kids and come back, but I wouldn’t be going to them tonight. I knew I wouldn’t be leaving my mom’s side until Jesus came.
Pete, Sarah and I sat with mom. We didn’t know if it would be minutes or hours. I remember at 7:20, I told mom, “You’re less than five hours from Valentine’s Day. But I think you already know that.” We sat around Mom and talked. Diane came in to just be with us. Dad came in while we were reminiscing about our childhoods. Mom was listening- she breathed in perfect harmony to our melodic laughter.
It was a minute past midnight and I told Mom “Happy Valentine’s Day. You have a big date soon.” Diane went back to the nurse’s station to let us be alone. It was Mom, Dad, Sarah, Pete and Me. It was almost odd how unbelievably comfortable and peaceful the room was amidst the pending sadness. It was sometime around 1 that we all started getting sleepy. I curled up in the chair that had become my bed over the last four nights, and held Mom’s hand while I nodded in and out of sleep. Pete found a position where he was able to sleep with his head next to Mom’s. Sarah curled up on the couch next to Dad, our ever-present strength, who hardly blinked for watching over us. Dad had promised Mom almost 40 years ago that he would be with her through sickness and in health as long as they both shall live. The enemy could have used the ten-plus years they shared in divorce to break Dad’s promise. But truly, our God is a God of Redemption. Dad and Mom had such a precious conversation the week before, more meaningful to both of them than they ever could have imagined. And now we were seeing just how incredible God’s timing is- our Dad was there with Mom, keeping the promise he made to her nearly 40 years ago. Tell me there isn’t a God- and I will tell you this story over and over again.
I don’t quite remember the exact time I felt it, but Dad nudged me between 1:30 and 2:00. “Lou, it’s almost time.” I popped up and got as close as I could to my Mom. I asked Dad later how he knew it was almost time- was it because it was something he had seen before, losing both of his parents already? Or was it just something he felt. He said, “I just knew.” We all gathered around Mom, held her… prayed… cried… told her we loved her.
At 2:14 a.m. we all knew, Mom’s Savior was in her room. She took a last breath, I shot out of my chair and I exclaimed, “He’s here Mom! He’s here! Jesus is here!!!” I trembled and shook, tears streaming down my face, feeling the clash of pain and overwhelming peace in the presence of my Savior. For 7 minutes, we were with Mom and Jesus. At 2:21, Mom left with the Lover of her Soul for the most divinely appointed Valentine’s Day of her life.
When I was about 7, my dad’s mother passed away. Some time later, we were outside and Dad was working on trimming a gangly bush at the end of the driveway. I thought of the most horrid thing my little mind could think of, and asked my dad, “Daddy, would you eat mud if it meant you could have Mimi back?” He said, “Yeah, I would baby.” A moment later, he said, “Actually. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t bring her back here for anything. I would never want her to come back here now that she is with Jesus.”
Fast forward 20 years. I sobbed to my dad a few days before my mom’s death that I didn’t know how I would live when she died. He told me that God would give me a peace that surpassed all understanding (Philippians 4:6). I didn’t believe him. However, a few hours after my mom died, I found myself telling someone “I wouldn’t bring her back for anything.” I shocked myself when I heard what I was saying. A peace… that surpassed all understanding… wrapped around me. I didn’t lose my mom. When you lose something, you can’t find it and you don’t know where it is. I know where my mom is. She is alive and made complete with Jesus, tending to the gardens of Heaven and singing praises to God. On Valentine’s Day 2011, the best gift my mom gave me was knowing that the last time I saw her won’t be the last time I see her.
That truth alone is the only reason I can face Valentine’s Day each year. It doesn’t mean I don’t re-live the pain of watching her hurt, then watching her slip into unconsciousness from the pain meds. It doesn’t mean I don’t tremble as I remember holding my mom’s hand to my face and desperately trying to memorize the way it felt. It doesn’t mean I don’t ache to hear her voice or her laughter. But. Because of God’s great love for us, sending Jesus to die while we were yet sinners… I will see my mom again. She believed and claimed Jesus’ death and resurrection, and in turn received eternal life. It is because of that that I can wake up to my excited kids on Valentine’s to give them goodies and remind them of how much I adore them. My biggest hope is that these gifts remind them of God’s gift to us, and that each of my children claim His grace and mercy for themselves. My three-year-old’s Princess Sofia necklace she got today will probably break tomorrow. My son’s 1,000 Dinosaur Facts book will probably be lost in a hotel one day. But eternal life with Christ? That’s something you can’t lose. Because of that, I am not five years without my mom.. rather, I am five years closer to being with her again.
Happy Valentine’s Day, from my trench to yours,