Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Unhappy Valentine's Day, for those who lost loved ones
I have been fortunate, in that I've seldom had to resort to the shadier practices of the journalistic profession. No sneaking photos of the deceased off the mantle during a wake, no pretending to be an assistant coroner to get information.
The sketchiest thing I ever did, in my opinion was for this story: lurk in a cemetery and accost mourners communing with their dead loved ones. I had heard that cemeteries were busy on Valentine's Day, and that seemed the best way to go about researching it. To be honest, the bereaved didn't seem to mind the intrusion. It didn't bother them nearly as much as it bothered me.
"I love you," Ed Caldario said, out loud, in front of the stone marking his wife's grave. Weeping, he set down red tulips.
"I always brought her flowers on Valentine's Day. She loved flowers. I used to send them to her at work."
For the fortunate ones to whom Feb. 14 meant only kisses, romantic dinners and funny valentines, it might be good to pause and remember that for other Chicagoans Valentine's Day was a bittersweet time of fierce love tempered by loss and sorrow.
By noon Sunday, Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside was dotted with big heart-shaped arrangements of flowers, plastic valentine decorations and poignant valentine's cards.
"For the one I love," read the cheery preprinted valentine affixed to a stick before the grave of a woman who died in her 70s. To the generic message of affection, her husband added: "We love & miss you very much."
Pasquale D'Andrea took his hat off and crossed himself as he joined his wife Angela in front of the grave of her parents.
"Valentine's Day is a day to remember loved ones," said D'Andrea, of Berkeley.
Isabel Riveria and her sister, Mary Mendez, brought along a gardener's trowel to tidy up the grave of their nephew, Efrain Perez, who died nearly five years ago at age 18. They also brought some liquid laundry detergent, to clean off the reddish marble marker.
Riveria said the Valentine's Day visit to Perez's grave is a yearly tradition, as is the visit to the grave of her brother. She said it doesn't detract from their other Valentine's Day festivities because they don't have Valentine's Day festivities anymore.
"We don't party since they passed away," she said. "We don't celebrate the occasions like we used to."
"Special days like this, it makes my mother real sad," said Mendez, who brought a red plastic heart reading "Happy Valentine's Day" to plant by the grave. "We try to keep it real quiet."
Not too far away was the grave of a baby who lived for three days in 1986. Someone thought to bring a heart-shaped helium balloon, with metallic silver on one side, "I Love You!" on the other.
The balloon was tied to the grave by a ribbon, and it twisted and struggled against its mooring in Sunday's strong breeze, as if trying to break free from earth and fly away.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, Feb. 15, 1993