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John James, founder of The Grief Recovery Institute

John W. James

Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute®
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve

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Valentine’s Day—For Many, The Most Painful Holiday

The traditional Holiday Season begins around Halloween, continues through Thanksgiving, crests with Christmas and Hanukkah, and ends with New Year’s Eve. While the Season can be wonderful for many, it can be a very difficult time for those who are grieving the recent death of someone important to them.

You might erroneously think that once the new year has passed, those grievers will have some relief from the constant reminders that someone they love is no longer alive. But by early January, the marketing machine revs up for the next cycle of cards and gifts—to usher in Valentine’s Day.

Every flower shop, card store, jewelry store, candy store, drug store, and supermarket decorates its shelves and aisles with the traditional pink and red hearts and clever Cupid images to compel us to celebrate our romantic love with our mates.

For new widows and widowers, this can be one of the most painful of all holidays. The romantic arrows from Cupid’s bow, now become painful darts that hit us in our emotional center.

It all starts in pre-school, when we begin making Valentine’s cards for friends and family. As we get older, we shift our focus from family and friends to romantic attachments. By the time we are courting, dating, and creating long-term relationships, Valentine’s Day becomes the day we use to declare or reaffirm our bond.

As our relationships blossom and grow, the annual celebration of Valentine’s day—along with our anniversary date—becomes the most personal and special loving tradition. And as with the cards, flowers and candies, the image of the heart is always used to symbolize that love.

And Then Our Heart Gets Broken!

When someone we love dies, our emotional heart is broken. The heart—the very symbol of the Valentine’s Day celebration—is the aspect of our being that is most damaged by the death of a spouse.

Compounding the heartache is the fact that there is very little societal awareness of the pain being experienced by widows and widowers that first Valentine’s Day after their spouse of many years has died. Even surrounded by family and friends, they may feel isolated, alone, and as if no one understands. And those feelings can extend long past the first year.

“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.” That poignant sentiment, from The Grief Recovery Handbook, is one we overheard a grieving husband say a few weeks after his wife had died.

Grief Is Normal And Natural – Not Defective!

Grief is the normal and natural immediate reaction when your spouse dies. The range of emotions that encompass grief is very wide, and is not limited to sadness. The feelings are a reflection of the many different aspects of your relationship with your spouse.

That range of feelings is also the normal and natural reaction when you are reminded that someone who has been such a big part of your life is gone, even if the reminder is months or years after their death.

Some special days and some events are powerful reminders of the fact that someone very important is missing from our life. Valentine’s Day, like birthdays and anniversaries, is one of those very special days, which can create an immense amount of painful emotional energy.

Unfortunately, when a grieving spouse talks about their sadness and other feelings, 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 dominant feeling at holiday events. Sadness, loneliness, and confusion are more likely to be the emotions that well up in a grieving person on special occasion holidays, especially the first of each of those events following the death.

Grieving spouses also hear the incorrect idea that we all learn from an early age, that “Time heals all wounds,” or “Grief just takes time.” Believing that to be true, the griever waits to feel better. But time is neutral. Time, of itself, doesn’t do anything except pass and many grievers tell us that over time their pain seems to get worse.

From Grief to Recovery

It is accurate to say that grieving people are not broken, and do not need to be fixed. To a great extent, what they need is for someone to listen to them, without judgment, analysis, or criticism.

But it is also realistic to say that grieving people are left with some unfinished emotional business. Even when the best of romantic relationships is ended by death of one of the partners, the surviving spouses discover things they wish had been different, better, or more; and are painfully aware of unrealized hopes, dreams, and expectations about the future.

It is important to deal effectively with those discoveries of what was left emotionally incomplete. Recovery, or completion, is achieved by a series of small and correct choices and actions made by the griever.

Earlier in this article we mentioned The Grief Recovery Handbook. The book is dedicated to guiding you in making the choices and taking the actions that will help you achieve a sense of emotional completion. It will help diminish the sense of pain and isolation you may be feeling as the result of the death of your spouse. And it will help you be able to have fond memories and talk about the person you loved, without fear of more pain.

From our hearts to yours,

Russell Friedman
John W. James

© 2022 John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute®. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at info@griefrecoverymethod.com or by phone, 800-334-7606.

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