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Valentine's Day stirs emotions for those who have lost loved ones

Valentine's Day stirs memories.

Ralph Lenzmeier remembers the exact day in 1946 that his love story with his wife, Renee, began.

The couple fell in love at first sight, beginning a six-decade relationship and a lasting devotion that remains equally strong even five years after Renee's death, Ralph said.

"She was the sweetest, most precious thing in the whole world," he said. "And as she grew, she was even more precious and beautiful."

They met on a May afternoon in Breckenridge, Minn., when Ralph's mother sent him to the grocery store to pick up her meat order. His brother, who worked at the market, suggested Ralph go meet the "cute little girl at the checkout," Ralph recalls.

"My heart was pounding, pounding as I went through the checkout line," he said. "I looked at her, and I thought, 'I gotta ask her for a date.' "

Ralph asked, and Renee accepted.

The next day Ralph walked to Renee's home to pick her up for an amateur baseball game in Wahpeton, N.D.

"Within the first block, I held her hand," he said. "From that day forward, we always held hands."

The couple married less than two years later. Eight kids and 57 years of marriage followed.

"We enjoyed each other so much," he said, now age 81 and living in Arizona. "She was my best friend, my sweetheart."

More than five years after Renee's death, Ralph continues each day to grieve and miss his wife, he said. Anniversaries, birthdays and holidays such as Valentine's Day are especially hard, he said.

"I have so many tough days around the year," he said.

But his kids make sure Ralph doesn't spend them alone, said Linda Bosch of Fargo, the Lenzmeiers' oldest daughter.

"I call him twice a day every day just to make sure he's OK," she said. "I think we just stay connected."

He will spend today with a son and daughter who live nearby in Arizona.

Losing a spouse brings on a unique kind of grief and is often the most difficult loss someone will encounter, said Connie DeKrey, a bereavement specialist for Hospice of the Red River Valley in Fargo.

"When that person is no longer there, that impacts a person not only on an emotional level, but in many practical ways and spiritual ways," she said.

DeKrey said the most difficult part of a spouse's death tends to be the loneliness that follows.

"They will specify a day or the week or time that is especially difficult for them," she said.

Widows often struggle with how to celebrate holidays like Valentine's Day, she said.

Some people may wish to continue a tradition that they shared with their spouse with a close family member or friend, DeKrey said.

Another way to honor a spouse is to volunteer or take on a hands-on activity on Valentine's Day and dedicate it to him or her, she said.

And in some cases, a widow may choose to spend the day in solitude with a box of tissues, DeKrey said.

"And you know what? That's OK, too," she said. "Releasing those tears is really necessary, too."

Ralph remembers Renee through the photos of her he has hanging in each room of his home, he said.

In January, he wrote a poem for Renee and ran it as an ad in The Forum on what would have been the couple's 63rd anniversary.

"I wanted to let her know that I remembered all the things that were so important to me about her," he said tearfully. "Because I loved her dearly."

Tradition of love

Bosch said her parents' relationship was a good model for her own 41-year marriage.

"I learned a lot about love, care, sacrifice, compromising," the 60-year-old said.

Bosch describes her mom as a "real trooper," raising eight kids while her father was out in the field in his Army career and taking care of other military wives and families in the neighborhood.

During the Lenzmeiers' marriage, everything they did revolved around their children, Ralph said.

After the kids were grown and Ralph was retired from his Army career, the couple enjoyed their time together.

"I just loved to sit with her and hold her hand and talk with her," he said.

As Renee's health declined during the last decade of their marriage, Ralph became her caregiver.

"When she couldn't cook any longer, she taught me how to cook," he said. Renee would sit as Ralph prepared a meal under her watch.

"My kids say I'm a pretty good cook now," he said.

Bosch said her father refused to put Renee in a nursing home when her health began to decline.

Ralph made her meals, bathed her, dressed her and combed her hair, Bosch said.

"He did all of that with such tenderness and care," she said. "He took care of her up until the day she died."

Ralph has never had another relationship, and it isn't something he would ever give thought to, he said.

"The problem is that another person could never live up to her," he said. "I'm not saying they couldn't, but in my eyes they couldn't."

Bosch said that's just another piece of Ralph's devotion to his wife.

"He has decided the rest of his years will be spent missing her and honoring her," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511

Tips for lasting love

Ralph Lenzmeier's advice for a lasting, loving relationship:

* Always have a smile for each other.

* Never go to sleep without a hug, a kiss and telling each other

that you love one another.

* Love your spouse with all your heart.

* Tell him or her that you love him or her as often as possible.

"I don't think I told her often enough," he said.

* Just sit with each other and talk.