One February years ago a friend’s child had to have open heart surgery. His mother told me, “I walked into a coffee shop, saw all those Valentine candy boxes on the counter, and ran out. I can’t  stand the sight of those blood-red hearts!”

It shocked me into realizing how images we take for granted can be painful for someone else. Valentine’s Day is around the corner as I write this, with cheery voices on TV and radio telling us to remember our loved one with candy, flowers, champagne, what not.

Reality check: There are a multitude of people for whom the holiday is a reminder of a “loved one” who is gone –perhaps through death or divorce. Or who may be far away geographically. It can also be emotional distance from a child, sibling, parent, friend.

For years I’ve just said, how sad for so and so.  But I realize this doesn’t help them. What does help is my hand reaching to that friend or relative or neighbor, even if it’s a phone call to say “thinking of you.”  Better still, an invitation for the two of you to get together that difficult day.

Of course, the wounded ones may be ourselves! My “Valentine” is still alive – more or less. Body here, mind gone somewhere I can’t follow. Aloneness comes in many forms.

So what can we do to help ourselves?  I’m back to a favorite passion: journaling. After many years I still find mystical help in writing my feelings. It enables me to share my sorrow and hopes, and to find ways through them. (On the other hand, if the  distance from that special someone is because of betrayal, venting anger in the safety of those pages can be a great antidote to depression!)

I’ve advised so many students and readers to journal. Also, to write a letter to the person who’s gone.  Say how much you miss being together, and how you’re managing to go on. The letter will never  be mailed, but it can be surprisingly  therapeutic. It can also be  a letter that does get mailed – -an attempt to reach out through the barriers  of estrangement or to tell a good friend that you appreciate the loyalty and caring.

P.S. As a perennial dieter, I’ve decided  that  Valentine’s  Day is a time to give myself  permission to indulge in guilt-free chocolate. There’s no rule that says we can’t buy those treats for ourselves!

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play–; also Amazon Kindle.

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