“Sometimes I can’t see myself when I’m with you. I can only just see you,” wrote Jodi Lynn Anderson. And then come those awful moments when you can’t see the person at all. The visitor known as “Death” has come and now all you can see is yourself. Love is at its most tragic in such moments and when Valentine’s Day shows up on the calendar, it forms a kind of symphony to accompany your pain. You dread it yet realize in the most meaningful of moments that it is the pain of losing that forms the basis of love – your affection and all that it has done to define you.
Such is the anguish of Valentine’s Day. In some ways it’s only fitting. Its observance first came into being centuries ago as a way of honouring martyrs who died for their love of their faith. Soon enough it became more secularized, more immediate, more romantic. As such, people all around you start sending paper hearts, red mostly, and talk of imagination, togetherness, tenderness, passion and, above all, love. They are so bright and colourful about it that it’s all too often blinding to the person who can’t share in it.
How can they know, as they watch you in your quietness, of your withdrawal, your pain? Could they possibly understand the deep and true love can’t possibly end and therefore the grief of its loss can’t either? And, so, they try to draw you in, to celebrate, to drink, or be happy, when, in fact, you can’t because you’ve lived through both sides of great love – having it and then losing it to death. It’s a curse so exquisite, since its very presence is a reminder of just how alive you were when your love was with you.
And so you go on, on this Valentine’s Day, a testament to both the joy and the grief of great love. Others wish you to just move on from it on this day, little realizing that there is no time limit to such a thing because a grieving love is never concluded. Just because they can give some time to in the season of death, like at a funeral, doesn’t mean that know how to make room for a grief that just goes on and on. It’s Valentine’s Day, and today of all days, they want you to think of love and relegate your grief to the corners of your life, just for a time.
And how will you do that? How can you? Your pain of loss can’t be placed in the compartments of your life. Like incense, it infuses every part of your world. You are patient because you know they could never understand. And yet maybe some around you can – hurting hearts that have their own agonizing that they bear but which they have accommodated into the routine of their day so that its unrecognizable. By your unwillingness to take that easy road reminds them that grief isn’t an episode of life – it islife, the very essence of it. Seeing you, they pull the veil away from their pain and show the world their own love once more. You become a balm, a healer, an understanding heart that gives permission for others to let out their anguish and live with it in the open once more, on this Valentine’s Day, just as they did after the days of their own loss.
To live through Valentine’s Day bearing the grief of loss that no one can truly comprehend is hard. The grief of this special day is without adequate words or full expression.
But it does serve a purpose – a grand and romantic reminder of what life is. It acknowledges that it is possible to hold the grief of lost love while yet celebrating it in all its meaning because it remains with us. It exists suspended in the human heart in a way that creates the tension of love that can still elevate, inspire, forgive, and, yes, go on. The very vulnerability of that love was what it made more like a rare orchid than something forgetful.
Of course, Valentine’s Day – this day – is our chance to make room in our lives for the fun, passions, life and glory that is romance, but it also calls on us to carve out space for caring for those who bear the glorious scars of a great love now gone. Love is precisely so powerful because it outlasts death and in so doing moves into the realm of grief. And since grief is simply love with nowhere to go, perhaps we can make room for such hurting hearts in the middle of this joyful day.