[Editor: This is only 11 days late, but the principles discussed apply to all holidays, so Happy Belated Valentine’s Day]
Larry: My first wife, Vanessa, and I married young and were unable to have children so throughout our 24 years together it was just us. We never missed going out for a special Valentine’s Day dinner together. I took care in selecting a Valentine’s Day card that best expressed to Vanessa how much I loved her.
Wendy: My first husband, Allen, was sentimental and replaced spontaneity with careful thoughtful planning. My most precious Valentine’s Day memory was when I opened the front door to our apartment and immediately discovered a trail of 2 inch chocolate hearts covered in red foil leading to a chair in our room on which he had a small neat stack of gifts wrapped with white satin bows. They were by no means extravagant but they were precious to me always.
Larry: I clearly remember how I felt on my first Valentine’s Day after my wife, Vanessa, had died. I made the cardinal mistake (read below): having forgotten it was Valentine’s Day, I went to dinner with a friend surrounded by happy couples and waiters handing out roses. We left after the first course. I just couldn’t take it.
Wendy: I remember helping my daughter fill out Valentine’s Day cards to exchange with her classmates. I remember looking at the Chippendale style chair in our bedroom with nothing on it. I remember making cupcakes for my children and putting candy hearts with sayings “Be mine” and “Forever” on each one.
Is this your first Valentine’s day since your partner passed away? Continue reading here. If someone you know is facing their first Valentines alone please scroll down to read “Supporting Others.”
Are you going through the grieving process and dreading Valentine’s Day? Are you experiencing intense unpleasant feelings?
Others are feeling the same way you are. “Grieving the death of a loved one is among the hardest things we ever do. Strong feelings of sadness and loneliness are almost universal, as are other painful feelings, like fear, anxiety, guilt, resentment, anger, and shame. Experiencing any and/or all of these emotions is perfectly normal,” says Dr. Katherine Shear, the Marion E. Kenworthy Professor of Psychiatry at the Columbia University.
The first year after the loss of your partner is the hardest. With support, counseling, time and space to express your grief you will feel joy again. Writing in Aftertalk has helped Wendy and me emotionally reconnect to our partners. We have made a conscious decision to reconnect to our loved ones in a personal direct manner. Through our Private Conversations writing we can express what we have internalized all these years. We give a voice to the inner conversations that all of us have to those who are physically no longer in our presence. Some of the most wonderful experiences after writing is to dream of that person. You feel that they are no longer lost to you.
For those of us who have lost a partner, Valentine’s Day is one of the two hardest occasions to endure in that first intensely painful year; the other is your wedding anniversary. Why? Because these are about the two of you exclusively, and in both cases you probably had developed specific rituals. My first wife Vanessa and I would always have dinner at a fine restaurant. Wendy and I have established a tradition of taking the day off and having a special Valentine’s Day lunch at a favorite spot to avoid the dinnertime crowding.
To save you time and trouble, I’ve read a dozen blogs and articles on this subject, and will now sum them up.
- All the experts agree on one thing: HAVE A PLAN. Do not go to dinner in a nice restaurant where you’ll be surrounded by loving couples. Get a friend/relative who is also alone to go with you to a movie or a play or bowling. Better yet, get a few of you together. If you must eat, go to a diner or a dive. Don’t watch the news on TV. They’re bound to have a soppy Valentine’s Day story that will upset you. If you go to a movie or play, make sure it isn’t a romance. Avoid anything based on a novel by Robert James Waller.
- In the run-up to Valentine’s Day here’s a tip for those of you who watch a lot of television. Avoid the annual Valentine’s Day episodes of your favorite sitcom; also, pre-record everything and fast forward right through all they lovey-dovey jewelry commercials. Also, stay out of the greeting card aisles when you shop.
- Do not stay home. Read #1 again. It’s just not a good night to be alone, especially in year one.
- Many experts urge those grieving the loss of a spouse to write about it. This is where Aftertalk.com can help you. Join up—it’s free—and start what we call a Private Conversation. Write your Valentine’s Day thoughts to your loved one. Tell them how you are feeling. Write about Valentine’s Days past and how much they meant to you.
- Some experts suggest establishing new Valentine’s Day traditions, like visiting the grave of your loved one. I disagree for two reasons. First, this will not work well if you fall in love again and re-marry, and you should, and you can. Second, I think visits to the grave are better done on less emotionally charged days. Avoid Valentine’s Day and your wedding anniversary; they are painful enough.
If you are not in that first painful cycle of holidays and milestones, ask yourself if you know anyone who is. A friend? A cousin? Even a neighbor? Call them now and make a plan with them. You pick the activity. You can also have them over to your place for dinner and a DVD, avoiding, or course, anything romantic. I promise you this; it might be a rough night, but you will feel really good about yourself for doing it.
To all of you who have lost somebody: embrace life—that’s what they would have wanted for you. Bye for now.