Valentine’s Day. Celebration of Love. Pictures of Cupid flying above. Valentine’s Day. Your loss more immense. Heartache increased. Pain more intense. Valentine’s Day. Remembering you. There’s no place for singles when everyone’s two.
For many people, Valentine’s Day is yet another of those annual events when consciousness of being alone in a world of couples is heightened. Phychological research shows that the confluence of commercial forces, societal norms and personal pressure to participate in St. Valentine’s Day all contribute to stress surrounding the Westernised celebration of the day.
This is not surprising. Valentine’s Day is the day when romantic love is privileged. Therefore, all those whose relationships have ended, who have broken up with boyfriends or girlfriends, who are single, who are separated, divorced or bereaved, feel the singularity of their situation on this day. It is a busy day for the Samaritans because the depths of loneliness, of difference, of exclusion, of feeling unloved, unwanted and unattached, are confronted by many on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is a day when the death of a spouse, particularly if the death has taken place in the past year, is felt even more acutely. An aching loneliness lies in knowing that there is nobody from whom a Valentine’s card with loving messages will be received. It is a time when the display of cards, “Happy Valentine to My Loving Wife” of Valentine’s Wishes to My Darling Husband”, are excruciating reminders of a world of loving that has ended. It is a time when the finality, the lived reality of the death of a person one loved is once more confronted.
There will be no florist at the door, no surprise present, no mobile message, no restaurant booking, no clink of champagne glasses, no shared bottle of wine, nowhere special to go, no one special to go with, on this day dedicated to togetherness.
There will be memories of past times. Of other Valentine’s Days, when being a couple was taken for granted and, like many losses, unappreciated until it ended. There may be guilt, because guilt stalks lovers and mourners, finding the minutiae with which to torture the bereaved, to berate them unfairly, on special days and especially on Valentine’s Day.
Guilt finds the moment of carelessness in a lifetime of devotion, the one request refused in the generosity of giving, the minute of anger in a marriage that was a loving partnership. This is why people often have regret at what now seems like neglect when romance was ridiculed, a gift not given, love not romantically conveyed, when a Valentine’s Day in the past was allowed to pass uncelebrated. Guilt forgets that one single day does not define a relationship; that love is not always articulated in conventional ways. Guilt forgets that couples have their own way of celebrating Valentine’s Day some subscribing to its commercialism, its excuse for celebration and romantic expression, while others participate in a perfunctory way.
But when one is alone, celebratory events can take on new meaning. On Valentine’s Day, therefore, for those who have lost a partner there may be loneliness, stark and sharp, sadness at the amputation of the future that was planned together but that now must be undertaken alone. There may be envy of others who are unconscious of their privilege, casual in their coupledom, unaware of the awkwardness of being alone on a day that celebrates having a special “other” in one’s life.
For some there will be consciousness that the relationship with the person who died was not perfect, sadness that what might have been was not and now cannot be; that death has denied the hoped for difference; that disappointment is concretised by death.
For others whose marriage seemed perfect, the light of its perfection may overshadow the possibility of ever finding happiness in life again. Or so it may seem on Valentine’s Day.
Grief is relentless. It finds ways of reminding, admonishing and ruminating. It is seldom predictable. While universal in pattern, it is personal in its particularity As poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “I measure every grief I meet with narrow probing eyes. I wonder if it weighs like mine or has an easier size”. This is because grief is immeasurable, complicated, complex and incomparable. It is our surest sign of our capacity to love.
Grief on Valentine’s Day is, paradoxically, the ultimate marker of love. For Cupid’s arrow does not just pierce to attract, but to attach. If pierces most deeply those who love most profoundly. Grief for another is the ultimate marker of love of that other. It anoints with remembrance. It embraces with regret. It enfolds the person who was loved in loving recollection.
And therefore, while one may be alone on Valentine’s Day, that aloneness is a special kind of loving not accessible to those who have not passed through the mire of mourning which is the ultimate expression of love. Those who mourn are blessed, for they know they have the capacity to love.
The above is an extract from the book “Living Our Times” by Marie Murray, Clinical Physchologist and shared by kind permission of the Author, Marie Murray and her publishers (permission granted 12/2/2010 – Patricia Hannon,for Gill and Macmillan Ltd ) & Eoin McVey of the Irish Times granted permission to use that article.
Thank you Marie Murry for kindly permitting Widow.ie to use this piece and to our forum member ‘Bernie’ who did all the work putting everyone in touch.