For many, Valentine's Day is a fun time to send or receive flowers, chocolates, and cards. For those with deeper relationships, it's a time to rededicate one’s love to a special person. But when your loved one has passed away, the arrival of February 14th may bring only sorrow. Yet, says author Joni Aldrich, most grief counseling focuses on the holidays in December, not this one in February.
"If you find yourself alone on February 14th after years of celebrating with someone you loved very much, the void you feel can be overwhelming," points out Aldrich, author of The Losing of Gordon: A Beacon Through the Storm Called "Grief" from Cancer Lifeline Publications. "It's difficult to see happy couples all around you when all you can think about is the person you have lost."
Aldrich speaks from experience, since she knows firsthand the pain of grief. In 2006, she lost her husband Gordon after a two-year battle with cancer.
Aldrich still finds the holiday hard to endure, even though it's been three years since her husband died. And she's not alone. If you are facing Valentine's Day by yourself, perhaps for the first time, Aldrich offers some thoughts that might make the day easier to navigate.
Prepare in advance. Maybe it's true that ignorance is bliss, but even if you wanted to forget this holiday, our consumer-driven culture won't let you. According to Aldrich, ignoring February 14th will only work until you see displays of Valentine's cards in stores. “Survival requires looking deep inside yourself to determine what you might do to make this holiday less painful,” she said. “There is no secret formula – we're all different – but try to focus on the fact that it's just one day."
Know what to avoid. It's important to stay integrated into the outside world, and to remember the traditions you and your sweetheart shared – but Valentine's Day might not be the best time to do either.
"Stay away from restaurants," Aldrich advised. "The empty place across the table will cast a pall on any pleasant feelings you've managed to work up. Along those lines, avoid any of the 'old favorites' that might be painful. Order take-out or cook at home, but don't fix that special dinner you used to make with the person you loved."
Stay busy. Chances are you've heard such advice as: "Get out of the house! He wouldn't want you to stop living your own life." Such insights are underpinned with truth. Try to plan an activity that will take your mind off your grief. "Schedule some quality time with friends and family," Aldrich recommended. "Play some board or card games rather than watching movies, unless there isn't a hint of romance in them.” She also suggested focusing on a new project that you really enjoy, such as redecorating.
Allow the emotions to come. Remember that grief never fits into a timetable, and that it's unhealthy to pretend that everything's okay when it's not. No matter how prepared you think you are, grief can still bowl you over. "Remember that it's okay to cry,” Aldrich said. “Let the emotions come – just try to keep them from overwhelming you. Depending on how you feel, you might write a love poem or letter to the one whom you are grieving. The point is that it's okay to remember those whom you loved and lost."
Turn your love to other treasures. Although Valentine's Day is marketed to lovers, it isn't limited to them. February 14th is a time to focus on others you love, such as children and grandchildren and friends. "Love comes in many different kinds of relationships," Aldrich observed. "Why not buy a box of the old, simple Valentines you distributed as a child and send one to each of your friends? Every day is a good day to tell those whom you love how you feel. And don't forget to love yourself in the process."
While Aldrich has rebuilt her life and moved on, her memories of Valentine's Days past with Gordon continue to hold a special place in her heart. "As much as possible," she concluded, "try to focus on all of the blessings you still have in your life, and on all of the love that you still enjoy."
Do you have a coping technique for dealing with grief that you would like to share?