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Grief during Valentine’s Season

Grief during Valentine’s Season

Don’t we love our holidays?  Food, family, fellowship, fun, sentimental focus… but it’s different after a significant loss.  Valentine’s Day can be one of the most difficult holidays of all.  Why?  Because it is a more couple oriented and intimate holiday.  The holidays of large-family-gatherings are over and this sweet one reserved primarily for “my ONE” presents itself.  However, my special one is no longer here.  Your “one” may not be your lover/spouse, but a parent, sibling, a best friend or even a beloved pet.  And you especially feel the loneliness of this loss as you see others preparing for their special time together with the one most significant and dear to them.
How do we handle these feelings of loneliness and loss?  We may have spent a lot of years trying to believe that if we ignore our grief and pain, it would simple vanish. Or if we could just hold it at bay long enough, it would likewise go away.  We long for the day our tears stop.  We pine for the day we stop looking for our lost loved one that we hold so dear.  We wonder when we will quit thinking about “what ifs” and “what could have been.”
Other ways we use are to avoid Valentine’s Day by doing other things!  We know of people who avoid spending the holidays by volunteering to work.  Others try to pretend it is just another day, while staying home alone.  A lot of people will join in a public place and try to pretend it is just a ‘regular’ holiday and that nothing had changed for them.  Of course, none of this works in the long run.  Whether they allowed the tears to flow or not, the reality of the empty space is still there.
As are all holidays when there is loss, Valentine’s Day can be both sweet and utterly painful at the same time.  So, what we can learn and continue to accept is to allow both. Yes, we can (and MUST!) acknowledge the pain.  Cry tears for the empty spaces at the table and in our life. Be open and honest about the pain, as the Valentine cards, candies and flowers appear in the stores.  And as that liquid pain flows down our faces we can realize that these tears are cleansing us for a new season.  A new season of deeper understanding of life’s cycles and how to successfully take care of our selves and also comfort and help others.
We can choose to focus on the meaning of the season; the important need we all have to love and be loved.  We can savor the family and friends that remain here with us and choose a relationship to nurture that before now, we didn’t have time to give our attention. If there aren’t any family or long-time friend available, we can choose a place to volunteer; a place to make new friends.  For instance, we could rock babies in a hospital or chose someone in a nursing home who has no one to bring them a bouquet of flowers and invest the time to reminisce about the beauty of loving and being loved.
This season, we will let our family and our old and new friends know that we love them.  We will love them, hug them, and be inspired by them.  We will let them love us, embrace us, and see us in ways we haven’t been in the past – not frail and broken but sensitive human beings struggling with a loss. (Or even more exciting, having completed our mourning season and ready to reach out to others!)  Most importantly, we will take some time to reflect on how all this connects us more deeply with Jesus, the Lover of our souls.  The one who can fill to overflowing those empty places deep within us that no human relationship can fill.  And out of that filling, we are empowered to move past our loss to helping to fill the void for others.  And in so doing, we enter into a depth of meaning that enriches our lives beyond anything we have yet to experience.  Mourn, reflect, renew, re-enter.  Authentically love the seasons, our God who gives love, comfort and hope, and the people who need “God with skin on” until they, too, are ready to reach out to others as well.  If you would like help getting to know our God, as a chaplain, I can help.  Please contact me if I can help.
John T. Catrett, III

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