It’s not personal. Really. All those red hearts, candy sentiments and images of perfect love are not meant to push you into more grief. They are world symbols evolved from traditions, stories, and religious celebrations into the romanticized Hallmark and bejeweled occasion we recognize today. Valentine’s Day has become an easy reason to openly and directly show love, beginning with traditions shared with our youngest children, parent to child and friend to friend.
“The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers ‘as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart’, as well as to children, in order to ward off Saint Valentine’s Malady. Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.” ~Wikipedia
Once again, the lesson is always love! Your response – grief is a response to loss – when placed in perspective can be your steps for healing your aching heart. It is true we can never experience love again in the same way as we did with, by and for the one we miss. There is no one else like your loved one, and this is the point for you to acknowledge, celebrate, and embrace openly. There is no replacement. If you consider your heart and feelings as expansive, rather than finite, you will find there is room for addition of love, even while holding space for your loss.
Universally, some of an individual’s pain of grief arises from the relationship: the exchanges, the intimacy, the innocence, the ongoing connection between two people. Not only the partner kind of love but also a parent’s love, a child’s being loved, a friendship love, even unconditional pet love. Love that comes from our stories of a past and desire for living out a future together.
We attach a great deal of emotion to the show of love, of course, and Valentine’s Day can become a calendar reminder of one more “what’s missing” along your grief journey. To gain clarity, ask yourself: What has this day meant in terms of your relationship? Was love lavished onto you on this day? Did you use this day to prepare and share your love in special ways? How was love expressed traditionally with this person? Did the date live up to your expectations? (It isn’t always roses!)
Like other holidays and your own unique grief dates, the world tends to keep revolving and doing in its thing while you are forced to stand still without, wondering about the unfairness, seeking to find solace in emptiness. All around are symbols of whole and filled hearts, the stark reminder that yours is not. It seems like everyone else is happy and in love or embraced with love or able to give from an abundance of love. Chances are strong this image is more a commercial story we tell ourselves as a way to validate personal suffering, since we know there are many others silently feeling their loss among the paper hearts, too.
You are still loveable and you can still express your love! Even if you don’t have a lot of energy toward this fact, just the acknowledgement is important. If need be, give yourself permission to continue to love, perhaps just differently. If you even want to wallow or get angry for a while that’s OK too. Release all the emotions of loss, because even though it’s the month of love, Navigating Grief is always personal.
Valentine’s Day is personal to me.
Three years. Since 2012, I count every Valentine’s Day with (at least) two pictures burned in my mind:
- The first memory is of my 1984 journal entry when I wrote out the menu for a lovingly created home cooked meal of steak and shrimp scampi for our first married Valentine’s Day. (Yum!) I saw it as a significant date of beginnings for our chosen future together. It was also a nod to one of our earliest dates.
- The second memory is the last night I spent with my husband Dave before his death on February 15 in the wee hour of the morning. I held his hand as I slept lightly at the end of the bed sideways. I noted from my journal in 2012, “The next day, Tuesday February 14, was the true beginning of his end.” You can read The Last Dance here. (Warning, this is my story of our last day.)
But I want you to know that Yes, now I am happy. Today my grief is really loss and not so much mourning or huge tsunamis. I am not in anxiety of the anniversary date. I will let it unfold. I am loved and loveable. I am at peace. My heart is more filled, not less. I remember my love for him with tears and laughter. I am grateful for all we had and for what remains to be seen. I am so glad I write out all my reflections so I can see the path I have traveled and the one ahead.
Yet I am a bit PO’ed for his Valentine’s Day timing as much as I am oddly honored by it. I’m not so happy, because I have chosen this time for a personal travel outing and an adventure “in memory of”. As I plan, I find hotels are expensive and cater to all those romantic, idealized couples still difficult to relate to right now. But I am happy for the date because it somehow seems like it was a day for us, and he is probably secretly glad that no one else could ever have this date with me without me thinking of him! Ha-ha. C’est la vie.
February is known as the month of love. Fill your heart with your love stories for healing. As this Valentine to you opened, “This is a day to write smiles, kindness, empathy and hope on the walls of life.”