Valentine's Day Blues as You Age

Coping with Loss. Celebrating Love.

Valentine's Grief
It's OK to grieve for lost loved ones but then take the time to celebrate life.. Getty Images
How can a holiday known for diamonds, chocolate, and bright red hearts give you the blues?

For those of us experiencing grief the cheerfulness of Valentine’s Day and its emphasis on loving bonds can feel stifling. The contrast between the glowing advertising images we see of young people in the throes of idealized romantic love and the realities of our present lives can be depressing.

One of the great privileges of living a long life is the opportunity to know and love many people – some of whom will not live as long as we do.

The sense of loss can accumulate, especially if we have not given ourselves permission to grieve fully. Our hearts can become crowded by grief, leaving less room for experiencing the love that is available to us today. As physician, teacher, and author Rachel Naomi Remen, MD has said, “Every great loss demands that we choose life again. We need to grieve in order to do this. The pain we have not grieved over will always stand between us and life.”

Coping with Loss

One of the first steps in making Valentine’s Day an authentic celebration is to honor the grief work we may still have before us.

·       Start by making a list of the three to five people you have lost who meant the most to you. Review this list slowly, calling each person to mind in as much detail as possible. Check in with your internal emotional state. What are the predominant feelings? Is there anxiety, despair, regret, appreciation, affection, respect or calm?

Make notes, and then identify the name that causes you the most distress.

·       Tell the story of your love or loss. Find the best listener in your life, and recount the story of your love and loss. If you have a friend or family member who will listen, that’s great. If not, consider writing your story, whether or not you have someone to send it to.

The listener’s role is simply to receive your story without judgment. Your story may be offered up as a prayer, or spoken to your pet (sometimes they’re the best listeners of all!). Describe how much you loved this person, what aspects you miss, and any regrets you have about your relationship.

·       Release your loved ones to their spiritual journeys. After telling your story of grief, check in with yourself. Has anything shifted for you? Repeat this process with the others on your list who are sources of distress.

Having integrated the whole experience of love and loss, we can move forward and create space for the love and joy that is possible today.

Celebrating Life and Love

Now that you have attended more fully to the grief you have accumulated, you are better prepared to make Valentine’s Day an authentic celebration of life and love by creating your own practices. Here are some ideas to get you started:

·       Design your own way of celebrating Valentine’s Day. Make a list of at least 10 things that make you feel happy and loved and that are feasible to undertake in your current circumstances.

Commit to doing at least three of them in the Valentine’s Day week. For example, you might schedule a phone appointment with a beloved cousin or watch your favorite “feel good” movie.

·       Set aside a sacred space or altar in your home for honoring love and joy in your life. Gather photos and other mementos of the people, pets, places, and things that you love and give you joy ­ past and present. Place it where you will see it often throughout the day.

·       Consider taking the first step to heal a loving relationship that has been interrupted. Sometimes we don’t remember the original source of the conflict that separates us. Despite whatever might have happened, how might the relationship be transformed if you were to offer forgiveness? This can be done without condoning whatever behavior caused the separation in the first place. Forgiveness is a decision to lay down an emotional burden from the past, not an attempt to rewrite history.

·       Give yourself a genuine hug. It sounds silly, but it actually feels really good! We tend to focus on the ways in which our bodies are failing us. Take a few deep breaths at your own pace. Allow stress to leave your body. Now wrap both your arms around yourself. Speak a quiet acknowledgement of your good qualities and your best intentions.

With a little creativity and determination, Valentine’s Day can be an authentic celebration of love — past and present — and a sincere welcoming of new possibilities.

About Laura L. Mancuso and Peggy Buchanan

Rev. Laura L. Mancuso is the Spiritual Life Program Leader at Vista del Monte Retirement Community.

Peggy Buchanan is the Coordinator of Vitality and Wellness Programming for Front Porch and serves as the director of fitness, aquatics and physical therapy at Front Porch’s Vista del Monte Retirement Community. Front Porch is a not-for-profit organization, based in Glendale, California, that serves individuals and families through full-service retirement, active adult communities, affordable housing communities, and related management and development services.

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