When "Happy Valentine's Day" Is Not About My Boyfriend





 Last week I received an Instagram message in the middle of a busy morning from a username I didn't recognize. I clicked on it, expecting it to be one of those spam accounts and found instead a sincere message from a stranger:
"Girl, I don't even know you. I just stumbled across a blog post you wrote about being single two years ago and I am so so grateful...thank you for being vulnerable."
Following this, the reader linked to the blog post in question. To be honest, I have not given much thought to my blog in the last year. Curious as to which post she had read, I followed the link to an article from Valentine's Day 2018 that I'd called "When 'I'm Tired of Being Single' Means So Incredibly Much More."

It seemed like a commonplace enough Valentine's post for the career-single girl I was until June, 2019 when I met Andrew. (Some of you have asked for that story and although it feels like a strange thing to trumpet across the internet, if you truly want to hear how a sports-obsessed guy from Buffalo ended up winning my heart, I'll spill the tea). As I scanned that blog post, I smiled at 2018 Rachel who was so close to a turning point of finding joy in her singleness. That version of me had no idea how much light lay in the road ahead; nor how much grief.
The post starts off admitting that no matter how lonely I felt, I knew my singleness was full of purpose. I wrote of the frustration with being told to be content when I was content and I still wanted it. This is all very familiar turf...until the post slips into a cold, deep pool no one expected from those succinct first paragraphs.
She keeps to her chair and bed now, hooked up to 24/7 oxygen which sometimes brings her oxygen levels high enough and sometimes brings a little color into her cheeks. How I love her. When I go to visit and tip-toe into my grandmother's bedroom, I'm a little afraid of adding any discomfort to the discomfort she already feels. But we start visiting and I forget about her condition and the fact that she is 84 years old and that all good shows draw to a final act one day. I only know she is Grandmama and I love her and I want to be like her every day. She is sassy and elegant still with her bright mind and those beautiful family rings worn on hands that also wear medical bracelets now. She is brilliant and very much alive. We talk about the books she's read and the places she's been. We talk about her childhood and the days when my mother and uncles were small. She is one of my favorite people - always has been. And when I stand to leave, I kiss her goodbye and walk out. And once again I adjust that dream. The one I've told few people about since she got sick - the one that has already been adjusted so many times. It used to read, "I want Grandmama to be at my wedding. I want her to know and love my husband and I want him to know and love her." It now timidly reads something like, "I want her to meet any man I date. And then - if things work out - my husband can look back and know he once met the woman I aspire to be like when I'm old." And I pull my car backward out of the horseshoe driveway wondering how many more times I will be able to adjust the dream before it has to be put away completely. Will I be brave enough for that? Will there be a pair of arms to hold me as I weep or will I put that dream away forever and tell him, one day, how badly I wish he could have known the strongest woman I'd ever met - the one who still holds so much of my heart?
The Rachel who wrote those words could not have known (or maybe she suspected, and that's why she wrote them) that her beloved Grandmama would die almost exactly a month later.
In late March 2018 we rushed home from an ill-fated family vacation to move her home from the hospital and begin palliative care. It was pussy-willow time, early spring. I'd lost a grandmother and a dear friend, and I never want to walk that road of deep, first loss ever again. I am glad the first big loss like that comes just once in a life; it's awful. Even now, two years later, when I saw which blog post the reader had connected so deeply with, and when I re-read the words I'd written there, sadness welled up. Grief is like that: it enters on a plain old Saturday morning as you brush your teeth and check Instagram. If I'm totally honest, I delayed accepting the message request so that this reader could not see I'd read her message. I waited four days to respond. I didn't want to tell her how that story ended.

In a way, everything I feared in that blog post came true. I hate to say it so bluntly, but that's the way it is. Grandmama never did get to meet Andrew. Fact is, I wouldn't meet him for another year and a half after the events of that post. It all happened just as I wrote: the death, the extended singleness, the ache when I did meet somebody and she couldn't give me her opinion and approval which I valued above nearly anyone else's.... but there were other things too and I write today to continue the story.

In that 2018 Valentine's Day post, I asked if there would be a pair of arms to hold me as I wept. There was not a pair of arms; there were many.

When I think back on those hard days, I see pain and I see a community that helped bear it. The day Grandmama died, our home was filled with people who had also walked hard roads. That's the other thing about grief: it's heaviest when you think you're the only one who bears it. I was not left alone. The arms holding me were not the arms I had hoped for. But they were the arms of people who knew and loved me best, and those arms don't have to belong to a lover.
One of our old friends who had lost his father several years before showed up with his widowed mother. He pushed a mason jar of coral-pink quince blossoms into my hands, awkwardly stood on one foot and then the other, wrapped me in big hug, and changed the subject. A family whose daughters I grew up with but hadn't seen in a year brought dinner, and comfort, and how was it that we laughed when the whole world had fallen apart? How were we able to go to the coffee shop and walk down the quiet brick street and answer to our barista's chirky, "How's your day going?" with,
"Well we lost our Grandmother this morning so not too great...."

There is a solace and a strength to community that I cannot overstate for the single person, the married person, the dating couple, the widower. You must surround yourself with people who love Christ. You must stay, in order to plant those deep roots and when hard things come (and they will), this collective organism of community will raise your head and bear it with you. This is a love that you need in every stage of life, and I fear that we do not value it the way we should. This community of which I speak was the tangible grace of God that held my grief when it was heaviest for me, and helped me forward into better things. I'm going to tell you something important: a romantic relationship was never meant to bear the job God has assigned to a godly community. Your boyfriend or girlfriend, your husband or wife was never meant to replace the body of Christ. I didn't know that then. I have learned it now, and I have never been more grateful. Even when I have found that person I long prayed for.

Two years have passed. The amethyst ring belonging to Grandmama is now a fixture on my own hand. I've had adventures. I've chased dreams. I've fought fears and made mistakes. Sometime last summer I met a boy and I fell in love. I still wish she could have known him.

Andrew and I swap stories about our grandparents sometimes. He tells me that his granddad was just like Robert De Niro in The Intern; I claim that Grandmama was essentially our Dame Maggie Smith. I think the kindness of God shows up even here in the loss of our grandparents: Andrew understands what it means to miss somebody who was one of my best friends. He can't know her the way I wish he could, but he knows the way I miss her, and that is enough. So we press on. Andrew watches baseball with my Grandaddy now and then and I smile quietly at the bridal portrait of Grandmama above Grandaddy's TV. If I hadn't loved a boy who loved sports (which was a quality definitely not on my list) would Andrew and Grandaddy have the same connection? I don't know. But that's the funny thing about life: it never goes to plan and it's still somehow what it should be.

Happy Valentine's Day to this neglected little blog family and my beloved community of friends. I wish I could go back and tell single, 2018 Rachel that love is powerful in all its forms and when the worst happens, she wouldn't be alone. The love of my community is the love I want to highlight this Valentine's Day. And even though I have Andrew, I am here as a testimony that philia and agape love are the real MVPs: romance was never meant to stand-in for community, but to join it and be strengthened by it. I pray that you'll be brave and show up for your life, and fight for these truest forms of love.

With All My Love,
                    Rachel


3 comments

  1. That's a a beautiful post, Rachel. And as one who has lost both sets of her grandparents in her teens, that ache feels all to familiar and raw to me...

    I love how you have the ability to look back at that post in 2018 with both joy and sorrow. That combination is very real in our broken lives on earth. As Galadriel would say "love is mingled with grief"

    So glad God brought Andrew into your life. I love how you talk about the community of love found among believers in Christ, and what a rich support and connection in your life. That's something to treasure too.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Beautiful! Thank you for the reminder about the importance of community in our relationships. I am happy for you!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I wasn't close with my grandmother who died, but the one who is living is . . . well, I prefer to think, eternal. I'm choosing not to think further.

    I've missed your posts, and of course we'd love to hear your story.

    ReplyDelete