Unprepared for Regret, Part II: Valentine’s Day

(To read the first entry in this occasional series, see Unprepared for Regret.)

Valentine’s Day is special for many couples, but for my wife Jill and me it was particularly noteworthy because it marked the beginning of our serious relationship.

We had met in the Fall of 1979, when I was a sophomore and she was a freshman at Winyah High School in Georgetown, SC. She and her friend Evelyn were equipment managers for the football team, and I first met them when I stood at the counter to get my shoulder pads and helmet. It was the closest I’ve come to “love at first sight,” but she didn’t have quite the same reaction.

In the Spring of 1980, we ran track together. I first held her hand on one of the bus rides home from a meet, and I used to stand on the infield and “catch” her when she finished her races. I came to like her very much — truth to tell, I fell in love with her very quickly — and she liked me, too … but not too much later she told me she only wanted to be friends.

With Jill on the front steps of Winyah High School in the Spring of 1980 — before she told me she just wanted to be friends.

By the Fall of 1981, we were still friends. We had both had other relationships that hadn’t worked out, and I had seen her once over the summer and jokingly told her that if five years went by and neither of us married anyone then we should just marry each other. I think she laughed at the idea … but I don’t have much memory for the details of events in my life, so I can’t be sure. Anyway, that Fall Jill agreed to let me sponsor her for Homecoming, and to take her to a Halloween party and a football awards banquet, but we were not “dating” in any serious sense.

And then came Valentine’s Day of 1982.

We both went separately to the dance in the high school gymnasium, and late in the evening I asked her to dance a slow dance with me. I was never a very good dancer, but Jill was — I was always intimidated when dancing with her, and might not have had the courage to ask her if I hadn’t been just a little bit drunk (and, yes, I admit that I was a few months shy of the then-legal age of 18).

During that slow dance, possibly fueled by that same liquid courage, I said something along the lines of, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but I think I will always love you.”

And, to my surprise and delight, Jill said she loved me, too.

I feel certain that we kissed, and I wish I could remember it. A short time later, she had to catch a ride with her friends back to her house, and I recall being a bit unsure that she had really said she loved me. I had wanted to hear her say it for so long, I couldn’t quite believe it was real. But it was.

Ten weeks later we went to my Senior Prom together.

With Jill at my Senior Prom in May 1982.

We were married three years after that. We had some ups and downs, before and during, but our marriage lasted 34 years and change — and every Valentine’s Day was special because they marked the first time we both admitted (or, agreed) that we loved one another.



About two months after Jill died, I went home to Georgetown and walked our puppy around some of our old haunts. At one point I stood in front of the old, run-down, tawdry gym and thought about that Valentine’s dance. I wished for a clearer memory of that night — of the song we danced to, of what she wore, of the smell of her perfume, of her face in the low light — but my brain is built to remember what happened more than how it happened.

That defect in my memory — that it is “declarative” rather than “episodic” — is something I deeply regret, something I was unprepared to deal with in terms of grief, and something I dearly wish I could overcome — because I want to remember Jill more clearly, and to recall more vividly the good times we had. But I can’t … and as a result my life without her is sadder and more empty than it might otherwise be.

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16 Responses to Unprepared for Regret, Part II: Valentine’s Day

  1. Karen Keith says:

    Gray, thank you for expressing what I am feeling completely. I read your Part I as well, and you are spot on regarding the regrets I have also been feeling. I did not lose my husbad as suddenly as your lost your wife. Mine was a six month journey, watching his steady decline to cancer. Still, I can’t help but feel the same regrets: did I show him I loved him enough; did I tell him I appreciated him enough; did I embody the Proverbs 31 wife, and other thoughts. Our marriage was the second for both of us. God brought us together and we enjoyed 18 years together, but . . . it was not long enough. The expectation was to grow old together. We did everything together and we true life partners. He was my help-meet in every biblical sense. So, I truly get your sense of loss and pain. Valentine’s Day hit me like a ton of bricks. I was totally unprepared for it. Although it has only been two and a half months, I felt I had been doing OK. Wrong. That went out the window, and I just wanted to get through the day, yesterday. The stark reality of being left behind is so visceral. My only comfort, and from reading your precious wife’s obit, sounds like yours as well, is that he, and she, are with Jesus in paradise. Praise God there is hope for life eternal with no more pain, tears, or suffering. Thank you for sharing your story and allowing yourself to be emotionally vulnerable.
    I get it, as do so many of us who have lost someone so special.
    Blessings to you, Gray. I pray you find strength and comfort to go on and live the rest of this life finding joy again someday.

  2. Cheri says:

    Gray, awww man! You articulate things so well. Keep writing ✍️

  3. Charlene says:

    I enjoyed reading your love story ! Thank you for sharing &I know you miss her terribly. I pray that each day is a little easier for you.

  4. Roy Reichle says:

    Ah, Gray. What a terrific story of budding love. Thank you for sharing it with us. There’s wonderful wisdom there about the power of perseverance.

    I am a two sides of every coin kind of guy, and when I read how you mourn the lack of details in your memories, my mind immediately turn toward the other side of that coin. You see, my mind is wedded to details and the emotions tied to them, which is very sweet to taste when the memory is fine, but Gray, the regrets that haunt me in every detail make for many hours of pain.
    I’m not suggesting that you should not wish for memories full of detail and the accompanying emotional power, not at all. I wish you could have that. However, remember the other side of the coin as well.

    Wishing you all the best, Gray. take care and God Bless.

  5. Brenda Reichle says:

    I too am terrible at remembering details. I remember the ‘essence’ of something, but when it comes to the details, I am hopeless. I have never walked through grief with this limitation, so I can’t exactly mirror your experience, but I have learned to be grateful for what I do have – the way it made me feel. While it might be comforting to remember each and every detail, I believe it is most important to savor the experience in the way you participated in it. If Jill were still here, I imagine that she would not be concerned about the fact that you don’t remember what she was wearing in 1982, but instead grateful for the great love you felt and still do feel for her.

  6. Sharon Sypniewski says:

    You and Jill had a wonderful love for each other. You had good times and not so good times. You have two wonderful, smart, talented, kind, and loving children. They learned to be all of those things by watching you and Jill and how you treated each other. You are truly blessed. I wish I could carry some of your sadness for you. I am confident that Jill is with you always.

  7. Dennis Myers says:

    A wonderful beginning. It feels like that steady love you felt won her over.

  8. Signe Wegener says:

    Thanks for sharing this!