Special days, such as birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, often trigger powerful emotions and memories in survivors regardless of how much time has passed since the death of a loved one. A "holiday reaction" or "anniversary response" can occur because we associate a date on the calendar and/or the event itself with someone significant, such as a spouse, family member or friend.
For anyone mourning a loss to death, Valentine's Day can feel particularly cruel because it emphasizes the togetherness, love, romance, possibilities, future, etc., between two people. Moreover, given its significant marketing everywhere these days, as well as merchandise prominently displayed in stores of all types, it is practically impossible to avoid reminders that the "couple's holiday" approaches.
This article offers tips to help you cope with the grief you feel on or around Valentine's Day as you attempt to deal with an already broken heart.
Ignore the "Rules"
The pressure to act a certain way adds an unfortunate and unnecessary burden to those mourning a loss to death. If you feel the need during Valentine's Day to conceal your tears or put on a "brave face" (or, conversely, not to laugh or enjoy yourself at times), then you need to give yourself permission to grieve in your own way. Despite societal pressures -- real or imagined -- or the idea of the "universality of grief stages", there simply is no correct way to mourn the loss of a loved one.
In 2008, the results of a study concerning the resiliency of people facing potentially traumatic events (including bereavement) appeared in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. There, the authors expressed the idea of "coping ugly," meaning that "coping does not necessar[il]y need to be a thing of beauty; it just needs to get the job done." In other words, do whatever you need to do during the holiday in order to cope!
Put Pen to Paper (Or Finger to Keyboard)
Journaling not only helps relieve stress but can also help you process and organize your thoughts and feelings as you write them down. Whether you express yourself best sitting at your computer or using paper and pen, exploring and recording your innermost emotions and ideas "for your eyes only" often proves therapeutic and can provide insight into your grief response.
Bury the Past
If you are comfortable with the idea, select a significant memento, reminder or artifact that you strongly associate with the deceased and, literally, bury it in the ground during a private ceremony that you plan. Whether this involves a particular photograph, letter, matchbook, souvenir or some other physical connection to your loved one, the idea here is to symbolically and lovingly say goodbye to the deceased and to "let go" of your past relationship so you can move forward.
Be Your Own Valentine
Grief takes not only an emotional toll on those mourning a death, but also a physical one. Often, the bereaved feel exhausted because of poor eating habits, a lack of exercise and/or inadequate sleep. If that describes you, then practice some self-love during the holiday by paying attention to your physical needs. If you don't feel energetic enough to prepare a meal, then order out or go to a favorite restaurant. Take your dog for a walk, or invite a friend to stroll around the mall with you. And review these guidelines to help you get a better night's rest.
Honor Your Beloved
Focusing your attention on a meaningful way to honor and memorialize your loved one can help channel your thoughts and feelings in a positive fashion during the holiday. Ask yourself how your loved one would like to be remembered and then make it happen. Planting a tree in your yard, or donating one to a school or church, and adding a small "In Memory Of..." plaque is a wonderful idea. Or perhaps giving blood, volunteering your time to help others or reading to the elderly is more fitting. The ideas are limitless, and you can certainly hit upon the most appropriate idea if you give it some thought.
"The Human Capacity to Thrive in the Face of Potential Trauma" by George A. Bonanno, Ph.D., and Anthony D. Mancini, Ph.D. www.pediatrics.aappublications.org. Retrieved February 7, 2013. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/121/2/369.full