The traditional Holiday Season, which begins around Halloween, continues through Thanksgiving, crests with Christmas and Hanukkah, and ends with New Year´s Eve, can be a very difficult time for those who have lost a loved one. We might erroneously think that once the new year has passed that grieving friends will now have some relief from the constant reminders that someone they love is no longer alive.
Oops! As soon as each New Year has checked in, the marketing machine begins for the next cycle of cards and gifts – Valentine´s Day. For new widows and widowers, this can be one of the most painful of all holidays. From pre-school onwards we begin making and sending Valentine´s cards to friends and family. One of the most personal and loving traditions between married couples is Valentine´s Day. The symbol of this wonderful tradition is a heart.
When someone we love dies, our heart is broken. The heart, the very symbol of the Valentine´s Day celebration, is the emotional aspect that is most damaged by the death of a spouse. Yet, there is very little consciousness at Valentine´s Day for those who are experiencing their first Valentine´s Day alone in 30, 40 or 50 years. Even surrounded by family and friends, they may feel isolated, alone, and as if no one understands.
Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who has always been there, only to discover when you need them one more time, they are no longer there. Some days and some events are larger reminders of the fact that someone is missing in our life. Valentine´s Day, like birthdays and anniversaries, is one of those very special days, which can create an immense amount of emotional energy.
When a grieving spouse talks about their sadness, they are often met with comments like, “Don´t feel sad, you should feel grateful you had them so long.” It is probably accurate to say that one of the feelings a grieving spouse might have is gratitude. But gratitude is unlikely to be the most current and pressing feeling at holiday events. Sadness, loneliness, and confusion are more likely to be the emotions that well up in a grieving person on any special occasion or holidays, especially for the first several events following the death.
We all experience losses. Loss is not limited to death. Divorce is a momentous loss event for everyone involved. Moving with the automatic changes in everything familiar can produce tremendous feelings of loss. Major financial changes, either positive or negative, create feelings of loss. We all grieve. We grieve for all of the losses listed above, and nearly forty others. Yet grief is still one of the most off-limit topics for discussion in our society. It seems strange that one of the experiences that we are all going to have is the one experience we are ill-prepared and ill-equipped to talk about.
We have been taught to believe that “Time heals all wounds.” So we tell the griever, “It just takes time.” The grieving person believes we have told them the truth, and waits to feel better. But time is neutral. Time, of itself, does not do anything. Time passes. And painful feelings get buried.
Recovery from loss is achieved by a series of small and correct choices made by the griever. Comments like “Don't feel sad, you should feel grateful you had them so long” and “Time heals all wounds” do not help lead grieving people to correct choices. Rather, the griever is led down a path that leads to more isolation and loneliness. While grievers want and need to talk about their feelings, those around them tell them to not feel sad, and keep busy, and time will heal.
You do not need to become a trained professional to be more helpful to family and friends who are dealing with painful emotional losses. You first need to become aware that grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind. Since grief is normal and natural, you do not have to “fix” anyone. Sometimes all they need is for someone to listen, without judgment, analysis, or comment and guide them to the correct actions of recovery.