Diane Dettmann 1987

John Hohl and Diane Dettmann in 1987.

In 1991, I arrived home on Valentine’s Day exhausted from my long evening in class—I was teaching elementary school by day and studying for my master’s at night. John, my husband of 20 years, greeted me at the door, dressed in a partially buttoned tuxedo shirt and black dress slacks. After a hug and a welcome-home kiss, I followed him into the dining room. The table was set for a romantic dinner for two: pink carnations, red candles, and chocolate hearts wrapped in red foil arranged in the center of the white tablecloth. Together we enjoyed his delicious shrimp and linguini dinner, toasting our love for each other with a glass of Champagne. After dinner we opened gifts and cards wishing each other many years filled with Valentine’s Days together.

Ten Valentine’s Days later, I was a 53-year-old widow. John’s sudden death, on June 30, 2000, at the age of 54, devastated me. Living alone, I struggled to find meaning in life again. I longed for the warmth of John’s hugs, the daily experiences we shared, and those special conversations over intimate dinners. At least, though, I could focus my Valentine’s Days on my exuberant students, decorating the classroom with red and white crepe-paper streamers and sharing heart-shaped sugar cookies with everyone, including me.

After years of solitude and time to rediscover the “me” hidden inside, I realized that I wanted someone to love in my life again. I dated a few men I met at social gatherings, but the awkward dates made me miss John even more. I had almost hung up my dating shoes when a young friend of mine whose fiancé had died in a car accident called and persuaded me to sign up for Match.com. My sister cautioned me about the dangers of online dating, but I figured it couldn’t be any more dangerous than meeting John in a smoky bar had been back in 1971. After a week of sitting in front of my computer in my pajamas and ready to give up dating forever, I received a “wink” on Match.com from “Planenuts.” I decided to give “Planenuts” a “wink” back. Allan—aka “Planenuts” (an airplane enthusiast)—and I met for our first date at San Pedro’s Café in Hudson, Wisconsin, on January 29, 2006.

We hit it off right away. Both of us were widowed. We talked about our loving spouses, the difficulty of loss, and the importance of commitment in a marriage. When he told me he recycled and clipped coupons, I knew he was the guy for me.

Diane Dettman.GlacAllan and Diane Dettmann on their honeymoon at Glacier National Park, 2007.

In September 2007 we said, “I do.” Over the six years since we married, we’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day in a variety of ways—some more exciting than others. Like last year, when Allan tangled with a ladder the last day of December, sending 2012 out with a bang. We spent New Year’s Eve in “Bay 13” of the trauma unit, with Allan flying on pain medication and me wishing I had some. His shattered knee required a three-hour surgery on New Year’s Day. After the surgery, the orthopedic surgeon assured me that Allan would be back to normal activity in nine to twelve months, which made me wonder what I had said “I do” to.

On Valentine’s Day, busy with my “nursing duties as assigned,” I had no time to go shopping, so instead I dug out the cards I’d saved from our previous years. That evening, I set the table, lit a mini-candle, and decorked a bottle of cheap Merlot. With Allan’s walker parked next to his chair and Allan dressed in his T-shirt and baggy pajama bottoms, we sipped our wine, “exchanged” cards, and reread our old valentine messages to each other. Lifting our glasses, we looked forward to better days ahead.

Six decades of Valentine’s Days have passed through my life. Memories of my 37 years as an elementary teacher listening to students squealing as they ripped open Valentine’s Day cards remind me that, no matter how you celebrate it—curled up in a chair with a great book, snuggled with your sweetheart on the couch, or holding hands with a loved one in a nursing home—Valentine’s Day is about sharing our lives and love with others. Which is what every day should be!

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