Unconditional Love

Happy Valentine's Day! After my birthday, Valentine's Day just might be my favorite holiday. Yes, I'm single and no, that doesn't bother me at all come February 14th. As I preach anytime I hear people start to bemoan "Singles' Awareness Day," Valentine's Day is about love and that doesn't just mean romantic love. Love comes in all shapes and sizes. Their is the love we have for our family, our friends, our pets, ourselves, our work families, etc. That said, for the past four years, I have had to fight a little harder to be cheerful at this time of year.

I've never talked about it here and I already know that I'm not yet ready to go too into it, but four years ago I lost one of my favorite people in the world. The third adult in my house. My surrogate grandmother. My Netta. 

My relationship with Netta was one of pure, unconditional love. Netta began working for my parents before I was born and then, once I came along, asked to come every day and take care of me. She taught me silly rhymes; took me on post-school trips to the duck pond and Friendly's; taught me about the lottery and scratch-offs; introduced me to Oprah, Jerry Springer, and the whole cadre of CBS daytime soaps. On a more serious note, she was the one who braided my hair best, the one who was there at the end of the school day, the one who woke me up to tell me I had a sister. If I was upset, Netta would have an answer, and talk me down. She was never agitated and always gracious, despite having grown up as a black woman in the pre-civil rights south. (Don't do the math, she was always and forever 65 😊) 

 The first guest to arrive to my 4th birthday party. 

The first guest to arrive to my 4th birthday party. 

Four years ago, on February 10th to be exact, I learned that Netta was beginning hospice care and that I would be seeing her that coming weekend to say goodbye. I spent Valentine's Day 2014 in a state of grief, shock, and terror; how do you prepare for something you don't want to do and would give anything not to do? In all honesty, I did have to get rid of the scarf my mother gifted me that year. She gave it to me the night of the 14th as my sister and I were somewhere between having sister time, watching TV, and crying in our hotel room in Delaware, anticipating the next day's events. That scarf became haunted for me, full of memories I didn't want.

Arnetta Francis Church Atkins

While my heart scarf has gone, I have managed to preserve the joy of Valentine's Day. Yes, this time of year is my bugaboo. Yes, it will never be ok and I will never get over it. But, I have somehow learned to keep living, even when it feels like I can't breathe from the sadness. Netta was such a part of my Valentine's Days. She was there when I made one of my favorite (and strangest) set of Valentine's for my class (ok my whole grade #ImSoExtra) and saved the Valentine's we made for her, one of which arrived in the mail to me shortly before she died. So today and everyday, I celebrate a love that I miss, a love that filled a sizable jar of only dark brown M&M's for my 6th birthday because that was my favorite kind, and a love that I wish for everyone. 

 I wish I knew how old I was here or what this picture is.

I wish I knew how old I was here or what this picture is.

Single, married, dating, or somewhere in between, today is your day, it always has been and always will be.