Valentine's Day likely doesn't mean to me, what it means to most everyone else. When I think of Valentine's Day I immediately associate it with burying my Daddy. I also remember that on the day I was told that he died, I was out buying Valentine's Day cards, and cookies, while everyone was scrambling trying to find me and tell me he died (yes, I'm that old...we didn't have cell phones yet).
Below is an excerpt from my memoir about that Valentine's Day, 20 years ago when we said our final goodbye.
*Most names in my memoir were changed.
We buried Daddy on Valentine’s Day. It was freezing cold.
Sue drove to the cemetery with us, and she was being extra
funny, trying to make Serena and me feel a little bit lighter,
and we laughed a lot during that car ride. I remember feeling
guilty about laughing on the way to bury Daddy, but in
retrospect I see how much we needed it.
Once we stepped out of the car, though, reality hit us in
the face faster than the whipping wind. Nobody smiled once,
through the whole ceremony. Everyone acts so heavy when
someone kills himself. There’s all this pained pity for the
bereaved, and awkwardness too, every time someone looks at
you; this is on top of your grief and sorrow. Serena and I held
on to each other, sobbing, as they put Daddy in the ground. We
were in our mid-twenties and now officially on our own. Life
felt terribly lonely, scary, and sad.
Compounding our grief was the bizarre fact that my
aunts and uncles had decided not to tell Grandmother
Parisa that her eldest child was dead. And so after watching
my daddy’s plain pine casket get lowered into the ground,
after watching the men shovel dirt onto his casket and then
lay sod over him, which just made it feel so final, we went
back to my grandmother’s house and pretended that he had
merely taken off somewhere, that none of us knew where
and we were all confused as to why he’d left but that he was
definitely alive somewhere in this world. Within a day, my
relatives came up with a better story: They told her he had
decided to go back to Iran and had left them a letter they
didn’t want her to see.
Grandmother Parisa knew this was bogus—hadn’t he
just moved back to Virginia from Florida to take care of her
after her stroke? In the days after he died, my grandmother
would take my face in her hands and ask me in Farsi, “Where
is he?” She knew I was a terrible liar. For that entire weekend,
whenever she asked us about him, Serena and I would just
cry and pretend we couldn’t remember how to say it in Farsi,
then leave the room. It seemed a ridiculously cruel thing to do
to her. I begged them to tell her, up until her own death five
years later. She just went on wondering where he was, right up
to the day we buried her—next to her son, who, as far as she
knew, had simply vanished off the face of the earth.
However good my family’s intentions, it still seems to me—
twenty years later and with Grandmother Parisa long buried—
like an awful thing to do to her, not telling her that her firstborn
child had blown his brains out in her basement. But I also
sometimes wonder if maybe they were right; maybe they spared
her the nightmares; maybe they spared her the heartache of
knowing that someone who supposedly loves you has decided
you really weren’t worth sticking around for after all.
I'm so grateful that 20 years changes much. And that today Valentine's Day also means celebrating the overwhelming love I have for my incredible children and their father. With time I was able to buy Valentine's Day cards again, and right this moment my kitchen counter is covered with Valentine's gifts and candies. I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Helen Keller:
Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.