Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Not your typical Valentine’s Day story February 14, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

That memorable quote from the movie Forrest Gump rings so true in life. To a point. With a box of chocolates, you can choose. You can use the cheat sheet to find your preferred flavor. Let’s call that planning. Or you can take a risk and just grab a chocolate, any chocolate.

And then you bite into the sweet morsel and it’s either exactly what you expected, a disappointment or a sweet surprise.


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Life is like that. Some days all goes exactly as we plan. Other days not so much. And then there are those days when you simply want to take the entire box of chocolates and toss them out because the “you never know what you’re gonna get” part is just too much to handle.

Yeah, this seems rather heavy to write about on Valentine’s Day. But there’s a reason. The other evening, while donating blood, I struck up a conversation with the young woman drawing my blood. I noticed a tattoo on her arm and inquired about the poetic sentence inked thereon. I can’t recall the exact wording, but it was beautiful and honored the loved one who penned it. Her brother. Today marks exactly six months since his unexpected death.

I told her how sorry I was for her loss. And then she asked if I wanted to hear the story behind her tattoo and that’s when the phlebotomist told me about her brother and how they’d always wanted to get the same tattoo and now it was too late. And then, while paging through her brother’s journals, she found the quote that now graces her arm.

He was a writer. And a veteran. I looked up his obit online. He struggled, after two deployments, to readjust to life.

As I sat on the table, blood flowing from my vein into a bag that would bring life-saving blood to someone, I considered this young woman, her brother and the loss of his life. She wasn’t bitter. She wasn’t angry. Sad, yes. Yet, she had no choice but to go on with life, she said. I admired her positive attitude in the newness of her grief.

She talked, too, about how writing helps her deal with her loss. Like me, she holds a degree in communications, is a published writer and loves writing. It was reaffirming, even in the darkness of the topic which prompted our conversation, to talk shop with someone who loves the craft as much as I do. I encouraged her to keep writing. She smiled. And I felt that in some way perhaps I’d helped her. And myself. We agreed that writing is therapeutic and that we can’t allow life to get in the way of our writing. No more excuses.

And then, four minutes and 17 seconds after blood began flowing, the collection bag was full and we wrapped up our conversation while she filled tubes and wrapped my arm in tape. I thanked her. And it wasn’t just for her work with the Red Cross.

There’s more.

As I sat at the snack and recovery table, I commented on a patriotic tattoo covering nearly the entire right arm of a blood donor. It honors those who serve, he said. And then the young man directly across the table—the father of three young children who came with his wife to donate—shared that he’s a veteran. His wife, too. She was by this time already giving blood. We thanked him for his service, which includes several deployments. I couldn’t help but think of the other vet, the brother gone.

This felt like one of those moments meant to be. Here a small group of people came together on a bitterly cold Minnesota winter evening to donate blood at the local Eagles Club. And by the time we all left, we felt a connection, bonding over tattoos and stories and a genuine care and appreciation for one another.


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. But on this evening we got the choicest of chocolates. Without a cheat sheet. Without any planning or effort on our parts. Because sometimes life brings sweet surprises when we most need them.


FYI: I welcome any chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers! Make today the day you will reach out to someone, ask a question, listen to a story, offer support, show compassion and love.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


29 Responses to “Not your typical Valentine’s Day story”

  1. caroleparkes Says:

    Thank you so much for this story. So enjoyable! I shared it on my Facebook author page at ‘Creative Book Pages’. Hope you have a sweet Valentine’s Day.

  2. Brian Says:

    I’ve learned that everyone we meet has a story of heartbreak and/or blessing to share if we take the time to stop and listen. I appreciate your keen eye for observation and the ability to articulate those observations. Happy Valentines Day!

    PS..It’s been my observation that people I meet in Minnesota who find out I am a Vet thank me for my service, which is received with a grateful heart because service to our country, at least for me, was an honor. But in North Dakota, my home state, so many looked at service as a duty, one that doesn’t warrant a pat on the back, you just do it because you’re expected to and it’s the right thing to do. I don’t care for blanket statements, but that’s my observation.

    • Brian, I fully agree that everyone has a story to share. We just need to take the time to listen to those stories. I am, by nature, education and profession, a listener. I consider it a gift and thus try to use it as the blessing given to me. I appreciate your kind words.

      And, as the daughter of a Korean War veteran, I fully recognize the value of military service and thank you for yours.

  3. valeriebollinger Says:

    Thanks for sharing this special encounter at the Eagles club, while giving blood. Happy Valentine’s Day Audrey.

  4. Virgil Says:

    Beautiful Audrey, thanks for sharing.

  5. BERNADETTE Thomasy Says:

    We’ll have plenty of typical Valentine stories today; thanks for the untypical one that reflects some deeper thoughts on everyday living. Hope your dark chocolate arrives!

  6. Beautiful 🙂 Blessings come as gifts in all types of packaging as I say. Nice when someone, two people or a group of people share those blessings with others. Happy Day – Happy Valentine’s Day – Happy Weekend – Enjoy!!!

  7. I love those serendipitous moments in life. Thank you for sharing. Happy Valentine’s Day!

    • Dawn, it’s wonderful to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed the story. I hope you’re having a wonderful Valentine’s Day. My friend Valerie surprised me with dark chocolates, left on the windshield of the van. She is a sneaky one. And, oh, so thoughtful.

  8. Ruth Klossner Says:

    Great message…isn’t it interesting how a random encounter can turn into something so meaningful. And you tell it so well!

  9. Sheri Eichhorn Says:

    Oh, Audrey. What a lovely, beautifully human encounter you have shared. Interacting with people who have life stories to share that can lift us all up is so moving. Thank you for your deeply human way of sharing with your writing. You are a great writer.

  10. Littlesundog Says:

    This beautiful story is why I love chance meetings with people. Everyone has a story. There is a message, understanding and compassion to be gleaned with every meeting. What a lovely Valentines story… unusual yes, but those are the best kinds of stories. Much love to you, my friend.

  11. Such sweet conversations…everybody has a story and stories are to be shared. I am almost solely a DARK chocolate lover…another thing we both enjoy 🙂

  12. Susan Ready Says:

    Audrey one of your most insightful blogs ever as you are so attuned to those special moments that connect you to others who have special stories to share. Indeed you went to give blood, an ordinary gesture but left richer with so much more than you gave. Loved the analogy to a box of chocolate hope your day went well.

  13. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Beautiful story, Audrey. Hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day with Randy and thank you for being a blood donor.

  14. Wonderful story, Audrey. Sometimes you have to just engage with people and who find out such interesting things. All it takes is a little bit of time. I bet that was something to enter into your gratitude journal, right? Thanks for sharing.

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