Dad always got Mom roses for Valentines Day. Yellow roses. They were her favorite. After Dad’s brain surgery resulted in dementia and he needed nursing care, I took over ordering the flowers for Mom. I have ordered a lot of yellow roses through the years. Pain was always connected with it because the whole process was one of keeping up tradition while the meaning of the tradition was not clear to the receivers.
My parents’ wedding anniversary was the day after Christmas. That day, December 26, became a dreaded day for me. I always needed to go through anniversary routine because for Mom it was important, at least when she realized the day had gone by. I needed to be honest if she forgot and then asked if they’d “celebrated.”
So, each anniversary, I’d get cards for my parents to give each other. I would sign Dad’s card for Mom. I’d order roses for Mom from Dad. I’d bring their Champaign glasses from their 25th Anniversary up to the nursing home, along with tiny bottles of Champaign-like wine.
Once everything was in place, this day after Christmas, I’d remind Mom that it was anniversary day and fetch her from her room. She push her walker as we’d wheel down toward Dad’s room. Dad would generally be sleeping in his recliner. Mom would sit in the chair we kept especially for her, next to Dad’s chair.
I’d then try to wake Dad, prop him up and cheerfully announce we were celebrating their anniversary. I’d pour wine, give Dad the card for Mom by guiding his hand toward her so she could receive it. Then I’d open the card from Mom and try to excite him so there would be some response. Some years, he could drink a little Champaign, but on other occasions, he’d just stare or sometimes smile, but he didn’t know what it was all about. Mom and I would stay awhile and then I would take Mom back to her room. I’d often go home and cry.
Valentines Day was not much different. Same with birthdays and other family days. I went through the motions. It needed to be done. But it was grueling and painful for me.
Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. This year, you will help your parents give each other Valentines cards. Or, you will comfort your widowed mother or father on this day that celebrates love.
It’s all around us. We can’t deny it. So, we cope the best we can.
One thing that we caregivers should remember is that Valentines Day is about love. Yes, it’s about romantic love. But love is love. You, who are the foundation of your elders’ lives, are showing some of the greatest love this world knows. Maybe you should send yourself a card? I don’t think Hallmark has a special Valentine card for a caregiver yet, but considering our numbers, that may yet come.
Hang in, my friends. These days that we are supposed to celebrate can be difficult. But love is behind our actions. So, celebrate your loving kindness. Pat yourself on the back, even if you feel the day is a sham. You are the essence of selfless love.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.