Sweet. Romantic. Heart-warming: Valentine’s Day thoughts and recollections with the seniors of Philly’s Supportive Older Women’s Network.
We know Valentine’s Day is coming weeks before we even get to the new year. The Valentine’s Day cards and candy sit in their pink and red glory next to the Christmas clearance items on store shelves by the end of December. Regardless of whether or not you pause to pick up a stack of Valentines and a bag of Hershey’s kisses, the imagery of Valentines can’t help but make you assess your own ideas and beliefs about love.
At the Supportive Older Women’s Network (SOWN) we asked our members what the holiday sparks for them and they responded with a mix of nostalgia, indifference, and cynicism. The women described the way that Valentine’s Day can short-change love. Glory stated, “Valentine’s Day doesn’t faze me. It should be all year, not one day.” As Ms. D. explained, with all the pressure to buy gifts and arrange special occasions, Valentine’s Day can feel more like an exercise in consumerism rather than an act of celebration and appreciation.
For those who leaned towards the celebration end of the spectrum, they shared meaningful family traditions. Ms. M’s childhood tradition helped shaped how she viewed relationships and love. She said, “I remember every Valentine’s Day when I was a little girl getting flowers, candy, and a special gift from my father…This continued until his death when I was a married woman with children. My father told me that he started this practice because he wanted me to know what it was like to get gifts from a man that loved me and treated me like the special person I was.”
Our members’ opinions about Valentine’s Day were embedded in a bigger conversation exploring the expansive concept of love. In their conversations, they could see it as both an emotion and an act.
They remembered loving moments that took them by surprise and the delight of discovering love in the small, day-to-day interactions that we have with others. They shared what it feels like to not have examples of loving relationships in childhood and the subsequent challenge to learn how give and receive love in adulthood. The women spoke to faith and spirituality as guides on that journey. They also reflected on the importance of loving oneself and setting that example for younger generations in their families. Sheila summarized the intricate complexity of love, describing it as “a kaleidoscope, full of many facets.”
We hope you will enjoy putting your eye up to the lens and seeing all the colors and shapes of love shared by the women of SOWN below.
Mary: I had difficult time dealing with love because of my relationship with my mother. My mother went from one extreme to another. It was difficult for me to deal with, situations with me and my mother…There are scars that would never truly heal. Even in the hospital just before she died, I went to hold her hand and she batted it away. I have a different relationship with my daughter.
Alice: Love is something you do and something you feel. I grew up in a house that was kind of quiet, but I knew there was love there… I lost my father when I was in 8th grade. We never really said “I love you” until my mother was dying of cancer years later…And as I grew up, I learned I was a lesbian, and now I go to a church for gays and lesbians. I believe God is love. I think young people have a difficult time with love because of their stress…but love is just being with special people.
Ms. B: The one thing I’ve learned from being a grandparent is that my heart keeps getting bigger and bigger. Every time a new grandchild is born, my heart grows to make room for the new little one. Now I know for sure that love is infinite and expands like the Universe!
Ms. C: Love isn’t love until you give it away!
Martha: I would congratulate my child or grandchild if they told me they were in love. I would share with them that love is one of the most powerful and beautiful things that can be felt between two people. It’s exciting, powerful, fun, passionate and warm. You can laugh and cry together, share secrets, be best friends, plan together, and experience ups and downs together. But always remember love doesn’t hurt. Just because you are in love, never let that person abuse you physically, emotionally, or mentally. Never let them tell you that they don’t want you more than once. Save yourself and distance yourself from that person. Remember that you can and will get over them.
Frannie (sharing her return home to her husband after being away for 18 days): He said to me, “You are a really good person”. He does not usually say things like that. It was out of the blue. I think that’s why it meant so much to me.
Diane: My fiancé arranged a romantic dinner for us — beautiful restaurant, flowers, cards. I will never forget that evening.
Jennifer: When they [her grandchildren] put their arms around me and tell me that they love me, it helps ease all my pain…Recently, I had several errands and was not around much for two days. On the third day, my 10-year-old grandson came downstairs with an angry look on his face and his shoes in his hands. He looked me in the eye, with shoes in his hands and said, “Grandmom, wherever you’re going, I’m going with you!”
Bessie (discussing her husband of over 60 years): I was walking home and her pulled the car up next to me, and he told me how beautiful my hair was blowing in the breeze. That was the beginning!
Hazel: When I walk in the door and my dog greets me with tail wagging and happy barks, I experience unconditional love! Petting her lowers my blood pressure.
Novella: Love is the itching in your heart that you can’t scratch. It’s the strong feeling you feel for somebody. You want to be protective of them.
Ms. D: I was talking to my brother and we realized we never heard our parents say it [I love you] to each other or say it to us. I had a hard time saying to other people. When I had my first boyfriend and he told me he loved me, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know to say it back. Now I say it to my kids every day. I text them every morning to tell them, whereas I didn’t hear it all.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all our Local readers! Please share your thoughts on love and romance in the comments below.
ABOUT SOWN The Supportive Older Womens Network serves grandparent-headed families, caregivers for loved ones, and vulnerable older adults in the Greater Philadelphia region. A grassroots news partner with WHYY/N.I.C.E.
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This column was written by Lori Latimer, SOWN’s Director of Programs. Read last month’s column here.