Death, Valentines and the YA Section

On a holiday charged with emotions after my best friend’s death, I found solace surrounded by teen angst

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I used to like Valentine’s Day.

I like candy. I like the color pink. I’ve always thought it was fun to send cards to family and friends, even for totally cheesy, made-up holidays.

And I liked that it was my best friend Megan’s birthday, so that I’d never forget to send her a card. Then Megan died, suddenly, in 2009. She was 26.

The first Valentine’s Day after her death, I didn’t leave my apartment all day. I took a Paxil and cried and slept.

The second Valentine’s Day was worse, in a way, because I didn’t immediately understand the connection between the holiday and my grief, which I’d thought had lightened. I wondered why I wasn’t sleeping again. I no longer took those Paxils. I was fine on a day-to-day basis, until stores were suddenly plastered in pink hearts and I was forced to remember Megan’s birthday and her death seemed brand spanking new again. I don’t remember now what I did on that second Valentine’s Day; just that the first two weeks of the month were an anxious blur, much like the first few weeks after her death.

The third Valentine’s Day was okay. I had prepared myself for its arrival, although my then-new boyfriend wasn’t prepared for me to burst into tears when he asked what I wanted to do that night. (We ended up doing nothing; I worked an evening shift and he played pool with his roommate.)

Last year was the fourth Valentine’s Day after her death. I’d moved three states away, to a place where no one had ever known Megan. I was in my new job as a teen services librarian. One of my responsibilities involved hosting monthly teen social events at the public library. I read a lot of blogs and noticed that many libraries host “Un-Valentine’s Day parties” where single teens hang
out and eat cookies and write angsty poetry and listen to Destiny’s Child. (The assumption being that most kids who hang out at the public library are likely to be single.)


Renata and Megan

When I suggested this to my manager, she laughed as she gave me the go-ahead, saying, “Of course you would hate Valentine’s Day.” I am the youngest person on staff here and perceived to be something of a feminist and radical due to my weird habits like
“drinking out of a Nalgene bottle,” “not eating meat,” and “refusing to segregate the ‘girl stickers’ from the ‘boy stickers.'” So of course I would hate this commercialized, sexist, Hallmark holiday. It seemed too awkward and fraught to explain, “I don’t really have a problem with Valentine’s Day, except that it’s my dead best friend’s birthday.”

I accepted the good-natured teasing and planned my event. I made “Love Stinks” flyers with black broken-heart clip art and the promise of snacks. When February 14th floated in on its red doily, I had a lovely time decorating cookies with black frosting and doing angsty art projects with some teenage library patrons; a group of smart, fun young ladies who were all single at that exact moment in time. We were all happy to eat sugar and complain about how dumb Valentine’s Day is.

I still felt sad for my loss, her family’s loss, everyone’s loss. But last year, those library teens lightened my mood. Some of them are the age that Megan and I were when we met. It’s not even that there was some kind of intergenerational exchange of wisdom. It’s that we just sat around and joked and ate anti-holiday cookies with no cutesy phrases in script, and I was reminded that Valentine’s Day can still be fun. Even though it also sucks.

This year will be the fifth Valentine’s Day since my best friend died. I’ve already posted flyers for the library’s “Second Annual Un-Valentine’s Day Party” and just caught myself looking forward to it.

I’ll still send a card to her parents – and always will. And I’ll always feel a twinge of sorrow around this time of year. It’s still hard to share my grief with new friends I’ve met after Megan’s death. It wouldn’t be appropriate to share my grief with the teens I supervise. But all the same, it’s nice to share my dislike for Valentine’s Day with them, even if our reasons are different.

If only Hallmark would make an appropriate “Thank you for hating Valentine’s Day with me” card, I would mail it to several certain young ladies. But until Hallmark meets my very specific needs, I’ll settle for creating a space for young people hate Valentine’s Day together, whatever their objections may be.

Renata Sancken is a teen services librarian outside of Louisville, KY. She tweets at @renatasnacks.



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