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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Bentley

The 2nd First - Valentine's Day

I started writing this yesterday, 2/14, but kept distracting myself with other things because Joni loved Valentine's Day and I wasn't sure I'd be able to get through it. It is our Second First.

Every year Joni would buy cards for all of us, a balloon, and some kind of candy (usually conversation hearts - she LOVED conversation hearts). She was always thoughtful about what cards she chose and what they said inside. And she ALWAYS wrote a personalized note. Everyone loved waking up to find their balloon, candy, and card waiting at their spot at the table. When it came to celebrating together, for the first several years of our marriage she and I would go out for a romantic dinner the night-of and then head home. I'll spare y'all further details. Starting about 5 years ago, we decided to do cards and little gift kinds of things for each other on the day then go out to dinner only if Valentine's Day was on a weekend. If it fell on a week night, we'd wait and go somewhere for dinner for the weekend.

Joni's favorite color was pink (followed closely by a color I can only describe as being a mix between robin's egg and turquoise) so it made sense that V-Day was one of her favorites. In our house we love themes so she would normally make sure to wear pink or red or something with hearts. It was one of the fun "little" days she loved to celebrate. I'll post about others as they happen.

Being in the stores has been a challenge lately and not just because of the snow. Everything is Valentine's-a-riffic. But despite the painful reminder, I still wanted to get my kids something. I went into a Walgreen's the night of the 13th and purchased cards for each of the kids, attempting to do my best to pick cards that were special and meaningful. (Did you know that there is a shortage of son-specific Valentine's cards?) I wrote a personalized not in each of them because that's how our family rolls.

I started to go down the candy aisle and just froze. I couldn't do it. There's a phrase we're using in the house when an object or event is too closely tied to Joni to be able to observe the event or keep the object around. We say it's "too close". Sometimes items are important and meaningful and even though they have a strong association, we still want to hang onto them. But others are just "too close". Buying conversation hearts was too close. Buying balloons was too close. So at dinner I apologized to my kids for not doing more and explained why. My kids are amazing - each one of them completely understood and was very gracious.

At bedtime, my youngest started feeling anxious and uncomfortable because she was remembering the night Joni died. Holding her and talking about it triggered my tears (as it usually does) and I remembered that night too. Then I also remembered other things - like how many times I've thought "Oh, I need to let Joni know about this accomplishment…oh…right."

The tears are good. The freedom to express how we're feeling in our family is good. It means we're still processing and not burying our pain. Some days we're just numb, but as our counselor says "That numbness is a gift." So the Second First has come and gone with its share of pain (regardless of how severe). Sometimes the pain is worse and sometimes it's OK, but the Bentleys will heal and move forward even if sometimes it doesn’t feel possible.

Thanks for reading.


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