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Steve Jacobsen: Valentine’s Day Not Always Happy for Those Grieving Loss
Say “Valentine’s Day” and many people envision hearts, candy, flowers and a couple sitting at an elegantly set dinner table celebrating their relationship. But Valentine’s Day can be very difficult for those who have lost a partner or spouse.
Cultural traditions and social expectations can trigger overwhelming feelings of loneliness, grief and isolation. Seeing the date approach can fill us with dread and emptiness. There are, however, actions and attitudes we can take to lessen the pain and begin to transform the holiday into something that serves our own heart’s needs, rather than society’s impersonal expectations. There are also things we can do if someone we know is grieving a significant loss.
Those of us at Hospice of Santa Barbara suggest these tips to help cope when missing that special someone on Valentine’s Day.
» Know that you are not alone. When we are grieving, we can feel as if we are the only one who is feeling the painful truth of life, while the rest of the world carries on oblivious to that pain. But the truth is in any group of people walking along State Street, going in or out of a store, or driving on the freeway, there are so many others who are feeling the ache of absence.
» Celebrate the life of your Valentine while acknowledging the loss. You may want to continue favorite traditions, such as decorating the house or baking particular dishes, but do so after lighting a candle to honor his or her memory. If there is a favorite restaurant you used to go to, go this year with relatives or friends who are also remembering his or her life and share treasured memories. If the tears come, let yourself weep — it’s a sign of love.
» Do something for others. Take a day off from work to volunteer somewhere close to your heart. Helping others can be a gift to yourself and help lift you spirits in a meaningful way.
» Treat yourself to something you love or have wanted to do for a long time. When we are grieving, we often feel like we shouldn’t do not anything nice for ourselves, but our loved one would not want us to suffer needlessly. Think of it as a gift he or she is giving us as we go through our journey.
» Plant a flower, garden or shrub on Feb. 14 as a permanent and growing symbol in memory of your loved one.
» Lean on your support. We all need a shoulder to lean on from time to time, and those who love you want to help. Try not to isolate yourself or pretend things are OK if they really aren’t. Accept opportunities to be with others if they come along.
» At the same time, allow yourself to set limits. It is absolutely acceptable to say “No, thank you” when your friends invite you to come out for Valentine’s Day if you have decided on other ways to go through the holiday. It’s up to you.
We also suggest some actions to take if someone you know is grieving this year:
» Reach out. Call your friend or send him or her a note, and share a meaningful or touching story about his or her partner.
» Spread the love. Send cookies, flowers or another treat with a card that says something like, “I wanted to let you know I was thinking about you today.”
» Encourage the expression of feelings. Allowing your friend to express personal feelings and share memories may be a huge help. Give the gift of listening without trying to “fix” him or her, offering advice or interrupting.
» Don’t be afraid to ask. If you normally celebrate Valentine’s Day as couples or in a group, you should still ask your friend with the loss to join you. Even if he or she declines, at least your friend knows you didn’t forget or are avoiding him or her.
» Don’t be pushy. If your friend can’t bear to come out without his or her loved one on Valentine’s Day, let them know you will genuinely miss them but don’t force them to come along.
If the holiday is supposed to be about finding love in life, then caring for yourself, caring for others, and the care of loving friends and family can transform the meaning of love in new ways. In doing so, you can make a tremendous difference on Valentine’s Day and on into the year.
— Steve Jacobsen is executive director of Hospice of Santa Barbara. Call Hospice of Santa Barbara at 805.563.8820 for a schedule of adult and children’s groups, or to make a donation.
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