Cameron Barr believes that love lasts forever.
He believes that real, true love lasts waaaaayyy longer that the temporary, twelve-hour stretch of Valentine’s Day. Barr believes that love lasts longer than memory itself: Even after the brain has wiped our memories clean, leaving us unable to recognize the faces of those we cherish most, love can keep right on living.
In fact, he believes — no, he knows, by virtue of his own human experience — that the power of love pushes on and perseveres even after the heart itself has beat its very last beat. Even in death, love lives.
This may be why Barr is a little blasé about Valentine’s Day.
Barr, a 90-year-old Korean War veteran with a quick wit and a quiet smile, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His wife Virginia passed away last July, only a few months shy of their sixty-sixth wedding anniversary. The Reston, VA, resident says that throughout their more than six decades together, their love never waned once — even when his wife’s memory began to.
“I’ll never forget the day my Ginny looked over at me and asked, ‘Who are you?'”
Here, Barr pauses, but he does not sigh. His pause is filled with power and tremendous tenderness, but also with a steely determination, and his response to his wife’s question that afternoon proved that their love simply could not be dimmed — not even by dementia.
“I hugged her close and told her plain as day, ‘I’m Cameron, your husband, and I love you very much.”
And though he’s careful not to condescend or to minimize the importance of today’s candlelit, cupid-and-arrow holiday for other lovers, V-Day for the Barrs was just another day.
“We’d give each other small gifts,” Barr says. “A little box of candy or a pretty card — but we didn’t go much beyond that. In our younger years, with three kids, we couldn’t really afford to go out for fancy dinners. Even if we could have, we probably wouldn’t have. We had each other, which was everything we needed.”
As it turns out, that “little box of candy” holds a sweet history.
“On the day we met, back in 1951,” Barr remembers, “Ginny gave me a box of candy. She told me I didn’t have to return the box, knowing full well that I would. Of course I wanted to see her again as soon as I could, so returning the box was the perfect excuse. The rest is history.”
History, yes. But Barr’s ability to weave the sweetest pieces of his past and his present together right now is what gives him comfort and peace today.
“Gary is gone and I’m totally devastated.”
“Good night, honey .We’ll go to the farmer’s market in the morning before you play golf with John. Sleep well. I love you.”
The Stuarts, who would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this coming May, were inseparable — “We loved every aspect of each other” — but Stuart says her grief is still so deep that it sometimes threatens to submerge her.
What keeps her afloat, she says, “is the absolute knowledge that love conquers all. Gary is gone and I’m totally devastated, but in moments of clarity, when I can look at things rationally and unselfishly, I realize that our love is even deeper than my grief. It’s just hard to get to that unselfish love sometimes, because my grief gets in the way.”
She still has the gold necklace that her husband gave to her on Valentine’s Day in 1961, but more than the jewelry was the joy that flowed constantly between them. “We really didn’t know anything but love.”
Stuart, of Arlington, Virginia, says her four children and six grandchildren have been her shelter in the storm. Even through the pain, though, she pushes herself back to joy.
“My wedding day was the happiest day of my life,” she recalls. “On our 50th wedding anniversary, I displayed my gown on a mannequin at the party. The gown costs one hundred dollars!”
What doesn’t have a price tag, though, is the miraculous bond that still exists between them — no longer earthly, obviously, but now newly defined.
“I feel his presence every day, but I miss him so much that sometimes I can barely breathe,” she says. “I want to eventually dwell in that place of unselfish love. Right now, I’m just not able to do that. I know I’ll get there, though, because I know he wants me to.”
“I was his sweetheart every day.”
“Sweet Latif” is what everyone called him,” Vickie West remembers about Abdul Latif, her long-time companion who passed away in 2014.
West, 65, of Washington, D.C., says the things sweethearts do together on Valentine’s Day were the things Latif did for her all the time.
“He just had a romantic heart,” she says with love. “He’d bring me flowers. Take me to dinner. Call me every day. He made it very clear that I was his sweetheart every day,” she says through tears of remembrance.
During his final days, West says they both knew he was in transition. “I had a chance to say goodbye. We spent hours holding hands, feeling our love. He always treated me like I was the First Lady of the World.”
West says she’s certain she will see him again. “I maybe not recognize him as ‘Sweet Latif’ when I get to heaven, but what I will recognize is that special love we shared.”
To those who hearts might be heavy with grief on this day of love, these words from West might provide the perfect healing salve:
“You may not feel their presence today, but it’s already become a part of who you are. You’re carrying them right within you.”
She takes a cleansing breath, then continues:
“Never forget that what’s in your heart just won’t fade away.”
Kristin Clark Taylor can be reached at [email protected]