Remembering Loved Ones Lost to Cancer on Valentine’s Day

A cancer survivor remembers his wife who died of complications from ovarian cancer on Valentine’s Day several years ago. His advice to everyone: Holidays gradually become positive reflections of all that was good before cancer took it away.

Valentine’s Day is ranked No. 8 on the list of most popular holidays in the United States. While it’s not a national holiday, it is a day of celebration when loved ones are remembered, celebrated and acknowledged. But for those of us who have lost someone special to cancer, festivities of this sort can give rise to a flood of memories, and not all those memories are positive.

So, on this Valentine’s Day when people show their affection for another person by sending cards, flowers or chocolates with messages of love, we may receive not only chocolate hearts but broken hearts as well.

My wife died of complications from ovarian cancer on Valentine’s Day in 1997. And while that was many years ago, I can still remember driving back to my then empty home as the sun was coming up, and suddenly noticing how many things in the house were related to her. Everywhere I saw reminders that she had once lived there. There was art she had purchased or created. There was that funky paint job she had done to cover up a plumbing fix I had attempted under the kitchen sink. And of course, there were photographs of the two of us staring at me in every room I wandered through.

I finally fell asleep on top of the bed that I was afraid to open and disturb. And when I woke up the next morning, I recall struggling to make sense of those murky and numbing events of the previous days and months, hoping that all of it was just a bad dream. I wanted to believe that the two of us would soon be sitting at our small breakfast table with the view of our crystal blue lake just a few footsteps away from our cabin home, there in the Oregon wilderness.

Holidays can certainly be difficult for many of us in the early days after losing someone to cancer. I once asked a friend for some advice on how to manage the pain and loneliness I was feeling. Their advice was, “Immerse yourself in it.”

Over time, my struggle to move on with my solo life began to ease up and Valentine’s Day became a joyful remembrance of the good years in that relationship. The final days of her chemotherapy and clinical trials began to soften and fade.

What I learned from this experience was that holidays gradually become positive reflections of all that was good before cancer took it away. And allowing those recollections to come and go in their own time made all the difference. I simply couldn’t make healing move any faster.

And that is exactly the suggestion I now offer to others. We cannot push away pain by not thinking of it. Only in immersing ourselves in that pain of a broken heart can we find the means to mend it.

And the timeline is different for all of us. I’ve found that it does little good to tell my friends who have lost someone to cancer that it took a full two years before I had a single day without being reminded of my wife. Even now, so many years later, there are still images and recollections that pop up, especially on holidays. But today, with a happy heart, I look forward to Valentine’s Day each year, along with all the sweet memories that have survived the test of time.

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