Valentine’s Day memories

It isn’t spring yet but many of the cherry blossom trees that line the streets here in Berkeley are already blooming. The warm winter weather has triggered the trees to open their buds early, releasing bunches of flowers along their limbs that look like big balls of pink popcorn. The trees seem generous in their display, creating beauty for all to see.

Usually these trees bloom a bit later, around Valentine’s Day. I remember this well, not because of the association with Valentine’s Day, but because of the passing of my father-in-law, Ned, on February 14, 1995. He had been ill for some time but he died peacefully, in his own home, next to a roaring fire in the living room. I remember seeing cherry blossoms outside and thinking about the juxtaposition of his death with the beautiful spring scene unfolding outside.

Ned was much loved by his family. In his last weeks, we honored his wishes to die in his home, and a hospital bed was brought into the living room, next to the fireplace, and he lay there attended to by a constant stream of family members. He asked his family to massage his wrist, which was always sore due to a kind of mild genetic disorder. Other than his wrist, he was quite comfortable it seemed, just as in life he had seemed comfortable in his role as the family patriarch. He didn’t let much bother him, for better or for worse, and always had a good story or joke on hand to entertain one person or a whole crowd. In fact, one of his best qualities was his generous spirit. He shared his stories not only with his friends at Rotary or the club but with the weekly garbage collectors or the handyman who needed work. Though he could get impatient with some things (interrupting a TV show he was watching, for instance), he never seemed in a hurry when he was in his element.

Sometimes I ask myself, what is my gift? Maybe an important question is, what do I do without hurrying? I once heard someone say that you are most in your element when you get lost in an activity, when you are so absorbed by it that you lose track of time. Certainly writing is one of those things I can get lost in. There is a suspense to writing. I don’t know what I am going to say when I start, but it becomes clearer as I continue on. Writing is a process of discovery and, I realize, even now as I write this, that it can’t be hurried. I have to accept that sometimes thoughts will come quickly and I can write a whole piece at one sitting and other times the process is slow and I need to start over again and again.

Tomorrow I’ll enjoy the cherry blossoms again. They won’t be here for long, probably at least through Valentine’s Day.

A postscript: Ned had the unusual distinction of also being born on a holiday. He was born on Halloween. I often wonder how he liked celebrating his birthday amidst tricks and treats. I think he must have liked it. His nickname was “the Great Pumpkin,” and he fit the part, with his round face and gregarious personality.



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