Valentine's Day is in full swing with cards and hearts, boxes of chocolate and bouquets of heavenly scented flowers -- a day for many to find a way to express the rush of emotions that come when you love another human.
But for many others, who have lost their loved ones, a day that was once full of the glow of love becomes a day to avoid stores and restaurants in an attempt to ward off feelings of loneliness.
According to Gail Kennedy, bereavement coordinator for Hospice of the Central Peninsula, finding ways to deal with loss takes time and effort and are not as easily recognized.
"You can try to run away, move away or any assortment of activities to try to escape the grief process, but it is going to catch up with you," she said. "It can show up in your work, or even with physical symptoms."
Kennedy speaks with an intensity that is not just born of the passion for her work -- helping hospice in its mission to provide compassionate end of life care, grief support, spiritual well being and education to its patients their families and the community as a whole -- but of a woman who has experienced death close up when her son, Cody Geesey, was killed three years ago in a car accident.
Cupid's holiday and what it entails is love, and her love for her son shines just as bright today, post accident, as it did when he ran around her home teasing her and his siblings.
"This holiday affects anyone with a loss. It's not just a sad day for those whose spouse died, the ways to cope can be the same used for holidays that are more traditionally thought of as ones to watch out for, such as Christmas and birthdays," she said.
Kennedy pointed out that there is also no time limit on a person's grief or feeling of loss.
Hospice volunteer Rhonda Fisk's late husband, Gary Hood, died 23 years ago in a work related accident. She still has times that her loss comes back to her in waves, sometimes caused by something as simple as look.
"A couple of weeks ago I was with Gary's dad and brother having lunch and his brother made this face and it looked just like Gary. It grabbed at my heart. I said you 'You look just like Gary!' and he did it again and it just tugged at my heart. I HAD to look away," she said. "At first it was very painful. I did not realize how much Gary looked like his dad. Now, though, it is comforting. It feels like I get a visit."
Kennedy said, "Time does not heal a darn thing. It is what you do with that time that can help heal you. Find someone -- a friend, a group, a pastor. Work on that grief or the grief will work on you."
For many who walk through the fog of the initial death, services and visitors, they think the worst is over.
"Oh, the death is just the beginning of the firsts," Kennedy said. "Birthdays, holidays, family events and when you get through those, and then the first events come."
Cody would have graduated this year and Kennedy has decided that embracing it is right for her. She has bought a senior ad and has plans to attend the graduation ceremony. She has no illusions that it will be easy.
Hospice suggestions for those going through grief, supporting someone going through grief or companies with employees dealing with loss include:
* Prepare for special days. "Don't pretend those days are not coming. Because they are and if you take time, no matter how hard it is, think it through and decide what is best for you," Kennedy said.
* Don't be afraid to change traditions. Those decisions can be to celebrate the occasion, treat it as any other day, start a new tradition or even meld new and old traditions into a new take on a fond memory.
* Don't avoid it. For those grieving, don't stuff your feelings a hide your pain and don't give away your right to grieve. You have a right to cry if you want or withdraw from people if you want.
For those around others who have suffered a loss, don't ignore them.
"I would have people avoid me in the store. They would not only look away, they would back up their carts and go in another direction," Kennedy said. "For me what that did was, not only was I hurt because I lost my son, I kind of felt there was something wrong with me."
"In hindsight I can see it wasn't you at all, it was them in not being able to, you know, acknowledge someone else's pain," said Fisk. "It's not that you have anything to say that is going to help their pain. By just saying 'I know you are hurting and I am so sorry. You don't have to fix it or say what can I do?' It just pretty powerful actually to be just be acknowledged."
* Don't make judgments. For those around the grieving, don't tell them they are doing things wrong. Don't decide for them what their choices should be. The three things to remember are to be sensitive, available and quiet.
"It is important that others do not put their way of grieving on someone else. The same for what might be right for you to celebrate may not be right for others," Kenney said. "Respect goes a long way in healing."
Both women often laughed while reminiscing and said it was important to find the "new normal" to find joy and not feel guilty because joy is part of life.
Fisk said if you're too down to remember the positive about your loved one, seek it from others.
"The day after Gary died, his co-worker that found him told me a story that comforted me and helped me. It was something I didn't even know about him. It was that whenever they would get his attention at work the first thing he would do, would be to take his gloves off. Yet when they found him he still had his gloves on. So he felt like Gary didn't even know, that death came so quickly to him, and that gave me comfort."
* Forgive yourself. Believe you did the best you could with the information you had at the time. Try not to invent guilt. Relax in knowing that the one you loved knew that he or she was loved.
The poet Kahlil Gibran said, "Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation."
A parting bit of advice from Kennedy for those working their way through the grief of their personal separation stories: "People die, your love for them doesn't."
According to Gail Kennedy, bereavement coordinator for Hospice of the Central Peninsula, the emotional reactions to grief will vary with different people and it is not unusual for someone to feel; anger, sadness, disbelief, relief (when loved ones have died after prolonged illness), a sense of the presence of a loved one, confusion, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness, forgetfulness, or an over sensitivity to others' responses or an inability to focus or concentrate.
Hospice of the Central Peninsula recently began a grief recovery group that is open to anyone with any type of loss. There are still eight places open. Call Gail Kennedy at 262-0453 for meeting place and time.
Other services offered are bereavement support for patients and families, phone call support, support groups for teens, elementary school children, moms, scrapbooking and an annual camp for children ages 6 to 12.
-- Nancianna Misner
Nancianna Misner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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