Ahhh… Welcome to February, the month of cupids, romance and rocketing Hallmark profits!
I confess that I’ve never been much of a romantic when it comes to Valentine’s Day. Don’t get me wrong. I cherish time with my loved ones, and I appreciate well-intentioned cards and the occasional box of chocolates. But when it comes to the glitzy bling, extravagant dinners and romantic outings, I’m more apt to choose the practical, simple options (much to my husband’s dismay). I like peace and quiet, hand-drawn hearts, and mac & cheese at home.
But I haven’t always been quite this conservative in my celebrations. Like every other holiday tradition I’ve experienced since my brother’s death, I’ve found that I crave more and more the simplicity of each season. And Valentine’s Day is no different. Yes, I’ll still purchase the candy everyone anticipates, and we’ll enjoy a special meal, but I’ll also take time to reflect on what I loved (and still love) about my brother.
And here is a start:
I love that we spent so many hours playing Legos together as kids. I spent 45 minutes on Christmas morning this year constructing a contraption for my son, and it was like spending time with him again. And I love that my parents still have his entire Star Wars collection. Although I’m not a fan of the series, I cherish the moments spent sorting through those characters each time they bring them out for the grandchildren. Opening the box unleashes memories galore.
I love that we were so close in age, allowing us to share the same wide circle of friends. It brings me solace to cross paths with them and know that they share my hurt… and that somehow makes the sadness easier to carry. Although I hated it at the time, I love that he stood up to me and never cut me any slack. It made me ponder the opinions of others and consider other viewpoints. I love that he was a straight shooter and wasn’t one to mince words. He spoke the truth, whether it was popular or not. Most of all, I love that we share a name. Michael and Michele are like two pockets in your favorite pair of jeans. Comfortable. They belong together.
I love that he lived around the corner from me. I pass his house every day, and it reminds me that he has a far better home now. I love that he had two children who so closely resemble him in appearance and manner. They make my heart smile. I love that he married an amazing woman who stood by his side and while moving on to other chapters of her life now, will not be separated, even in death. She is a rock. And I love that he so selflessly served in the military for something he believed in, even if others didn’t approve. It encourages me to more deeply instill those patriotic values in my own children. I love that he was the first family member to see my first-born, on his way to a weekend drill. I will always remember him in uniform, snuggling with her. It feels like a lifetime ago. And I guess maybe it was.
I love that his sense of humor frequently overrode his sense of propriety. (And I’m wondering if I should feel blessed or scared that I’m seeing this same trait in my own son!) The laughter MIchael could evoke still erupts from time to time at the memory of something he once said. I love that he truly dared to live in his younger days, especially. Again, the stories are countless and speak of an abbreviated life well-lived. I love that he was so involved in our community and was such a meaningful role model. From the fire station to the armory, I see evidence of his life’s purpose everywhere I look in this tiny town.
I love that he loved me. Unconditionally. And I love that he made the time to personally say goodbye to me before his last deployment. I cherish that last warm brotherly hug. I am sad and yet somehow relieved that I didn’t know it would be his final farewell, because I know I would have hugged him too tight, silently begging him not to go. And he would have gone anyway, breaking my heart while at the same time making me proud. He loved the military and loved doing what he believed in. And I love him for those convictions. I could never have verbalized any pleas to stay. I love that he followed his dreams. Every last one of them.
I simply love him, who is the missing piece to the puzzle called me.
And I love that TAPS gives me a place to reflect. And remember. When it comes to matters of the heart, memories are everything.
It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, my friends. What does your heart remember?