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


  1. Nice column. Somehow it never occurred to me that Valentine's Day would be an occasion for cemetery visits.

    1. Likewise. But I never go other days either. I don't feel any closer to my deceased relatives standing over their graves, perhaps less.


    2. Me too. Until a few weeks ago I was grateful that my presence had not, for over two years, been required at a wake, church funeral or a graveside sendoff. I was, however, given an intimation of mortality last summer when my older brother deeded me two cemetery plots in Racine, our home town. The paperwork sealing the transaction arrived from the "Memorial Park" along with a somewhat unsubtle sales pitch ("Vaults 20 percent off. But only if you act before 1 October.")for the necessaries to make the things habitable. After I had bitten, an enthusiastic young sales lady called and asked about my choice of uplifting words to go under our names on the bronze grave markers. None of her suggestions appealed, so we decided on no words but a picture of a dove. I had contemplated suggesting "All things considered,I'd just as soon be in Philadelphia," but bit the old tongue on grounds that this evocation of W.C. Fields would be lost on a person of her generation and might, quite possibly, even offend.

      I had an Email from her the other day saying the plaques had been installed, they looked "just great," and wouldn't we like to come by and give them a viewing.

      Not on your life.

      Tom Evans

    3. Reminds me of the story I heard on NPR several years ago about a moneymaking scheme concocted during the 30s in which a smart fellow collaborated with a County Recorder in Michigan. The smart fellow bought a few hundred acres of woodland, sent deeds for parcels of that land to those he thought might have a few bucks to spend, and then split the ensuing $5.00 recording fee with the Recorder. No free lunches; no free land either.


    4. I go often to see my late wife as well as my parents and other relatives. I find peace when I go there. I go at least a few times a month. Sometimes when walking back to my car I look at the stones and dates and wonder what kind of neat events they saw in their lives. My sis doesn't like going but me - like I said I feel very peaceful when I am there.

    5. Love doesn't end with death, though I prefer to remember my late husband with happy memories of this day spent together, not an act of continued mourning.

  2. Very poingnant and a bit sad, with the baby.

  3. Yes, not the best day for me. My wife passed away 3 years ago. My mother died on a Valentines day. Then you got the St Valentines day massacre. Not a good day for them. I'm just going to get nice bottle of Champagne, stay home tonight and toast to my sweetie. Going to stay in and try to stay away from places where there might be couples. Couple's per se do not make me sad but just not today.

  4. Hadn't seen this before; excellent journalism combined with poignant insight.


  5. In Queen Elizabeth's unforgettable words, "Grief is the price we pay for love.”
    No matter how hard it is, it is a price that is worth paying.


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