Mending a broken heart: As Valentine’s Day approaches, hospice officials tell healthy ways to grieve, how others can help.

Valentine’s Day can hurt.

For some it’s bitter, not sweet. Just another day to stagger through the fog of loss.

While many people are showered with objects of love, Jeffrey Jones, a chaplain at Hospice and HomeCare of Reno County, is looking out for those who are grieving a loss.

Typically, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the big holidays when the loss of a loved one is felt. But Jones said Thanksgiving is book-ended with Valentine’s Day, which is another special day, like the other two, which must be reshaped in the grieving person’s mind.

“For some spouses it’s hard,” Jones said. “Their Valentine is no longer here. ‘What am I supposed to do? For the last 40, 50, 60 years, we have gone to eat, I bought roses and candy. What do I do this year?’ ”

Jones said that for a woman who has lost her spouse, she realizes she won’t be on the receiving end of the roses this year. Some people might want to stay in bed. If they can, and if it will help, Jones suggested just staying in bed.

“Some people wonder how they will survive the day, and one option is to take the day and be miserable,” Jones said.

How we look at holidays

Vern Goering waited about nine months after the death of his wife, Holly, before he realized he was ready for the support group that Hospice and HomeCare offers to explore grief.

“I didn’t think I needed it,” Goering said. “It wasn’t the ‘man thing’ to do.”

He came from the generation that was told to “buck up.” Grief wasn’t something men addressed, Jones said.

But by finally walking into the group, Goering realized the leader had created an atmosphere in which he felt comfortable talking openly about his beloved wife, to whom he had been married for almost 65 years.

“I wanted to share things with Holly and she wasn’t there,” Goering said. “I had to get it into my soul she wasn’t coming back, but because of the cross I would see her again.”

That was a huge step, Goering said. After that, he began to learn how to handle holidays and birthdays. Talking with others who had lost somebody they loved helped him.

“We think Thanksgiving and Christmas are what we struggle with, but it depends on the family and their traditions,” said Jones. “I spoke to one lady and she said St. Patrick’s Day was coming up and that was her husband’s big day. For some, it’s Easter.”

Jones recalled a family that was dreading Memorial Day, and the first weekend at the lake without Dad. Or Halloween, because Dad loved to dress up.

Even going to church can be difficult, Goering said. But what has really helped him is substituting the way he spends his time.

“I visit with others,” Goering said. “It makes my problems insignificant.”

Tara Dahlstrom, also with Hospice and HomeCare, said “reframing” is looking at what can been done differently.

“It was great that for all those years your loved one sent you roses, but what can you establish now?” Dahlstrom said. Maybe dinner with a friend who shares the similar loss of a spouse would be a good idea on Valentine’s Day.

“At Christmas and Thanksgiving, create a new tradition that you establish that holds that loved one in memory,” said Goering. “It doesn’t have to be overwhelming with the grief because someone isn’t there. We can honor them and let that be part of the larger celebration.”

Avoiding judgment

Jones said we shouldn’t expect others to grieve as we grieve.

“I tell siblings it’s not a competition,” Jones said. “It’s not a race. Just because your sister is crying buckets and you are not, that’s OK. I have to remind people, even though you both lost a dad, it was a different relationship with each kid. It’s OK to grieve how you grieve,” Jones said.

While some people don’t cry, others might experience a grief burst six months later when they hear a song on the radio or a certain scent fills them with an overwhelming feeling of grief. This might go on indefinitely.

It’s not a matter of getting over the grief, but learning how to live every day with your grief, Dahlstrom said. “You have to accept the good and bad days, and what life is like now and what is the new norm.”

With Valentine’s Day approaching, people might need to have someone listen to them. The thing to remember is that grief is different for all people, even if they lost the same person, Jones said. It’s also not a race. There is no prize for the one who “finishes first.”

Take your time and know the journey is a daily battle; some days you win and some days you don’t, Jones said.

“Stay in your pajamas, if that is what you want to do, and eat Ben & Jerry’s. Do what is right for you.

“Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve,” Jones said.

SOURCE: Kathy Hanks,  Hutchinson Post