Just before Valentine’s Day we received the sad news of the death of a dear friend. This was someone who my husband had known through high school, someone who immigrated to Canada with him, who studied with him, and whose family members shared many happy times with us although we lived some geographic distance apart.
Attending his memorial service in another city during the annual Valentine’s festival made me realize that there are many aspects to love. Contrary to the popular traditions of Valentine’s Day — which has been commercialized into frivolity of cupid, roses and chocolate — the love felt among family, friends, neighbours and colleagues at that gathering was something that could never be purchased.
The memorial was truly the celebration of a life well lived. The love felt for this man among his close family members, his circle of dedicated friends, his professional colleagues and associates was palpable. Yes, there was grief and pain at the gathering — but there was also the comfort of friends who reached out to each other with love and compassion.
Our friend had retired; during his long career he devoted his professional life to working with people suffering various types of substance abuse; some of those he helped were among the several hundred people who attended to show their respect for his wonderful life. The day was not marked with the usual trappings of funerals or memorials. It was a time to toast good friendship, to share food and to re-tell stories of good times. Most of all it was a time to recognize the many gifts received from the relationship each of us had with this man.
I came home understanding the meaning of the word ‘love’ more deeply. Once again, I had been at a gathering where everyone reached out in love and in friendship as we grieved and celebrated together. Being with others provided a multiplier effect for the love in that room.
Sharing the pain and loss of death is not a popular topic for blog posts. However, all readers of this blog do experience deaths of people close to them. Some may worry about their own demise and wonder how their life will be recognized. We recognize that life is fragile and fleeting.
The lesson for me in the past week — Valentine’s week 2011 — was that love is so much more than the romantic love celebrated during the Valentine festival. It is more than the intimate love between two people; it is more than the unconditional love of a parent for a child; it is more than the love of church or community or career. It is the capacity to hold in friendship all that is good, all that is cherished and all that provides meaning in life. The kindness, tenderness and respect we have for ourselves and for each other is truly the ‘greatest love of all’.
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