From the author of  Surviving the Unthinkable: The Loss of a Child: Meisenhelder, Janice Bell: 9780979651120: Books

My firstborn, Melissa, was a hopeless romantic! She loved Valentine’s Day ever since she was a little girl. We always celebrated as a family with a special dinner and Valentine cards. My husband would give red roses and candy to all three of “his girls”: myself, Melissa, and her younger sister. As a teen, Melissa always had a boyfriend. and Valentine’s Day continued to be a major celebration.

Melissa succumbed to cancer in June of 2004, at the age of 19. I anticipated Valentine’s Day in 2005 as being difficult, but it hit me much harder than I expected. I could not sleep at all that night.

There is no cheating grief. Valentine’s Day continued to be a grief trigger for years and remains so to a much lesser degree even now.

Other people will not understand this trigger on a rather minor holiday, especially if your loss was not your spouse. For us who know deep loss, catastrophic loss, all triggers are valid, and all triggers are personal and individual. Forgive those who cannot support you and move toward others who understand.

Like all triggers, acknowledging the validity of the feelings and honoring those feelings becomes necessary. Honoring our loved ones remains appropriate, no matter the holiday, the trigger, or the length of time since the loss. Ways to honor may mean visiting the gravesite, lighting a candle, or planting a flower. I send Valentine cards to Melissa’s friends every year, because I know hearing from me will make them think of Melissa. I have turned Valentine’s Day into a Remember Melissa Day in my own way.

Find the way that works for you to transform this day of love into honoring the person you love in whatever way feels right to you. To all those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, my heart goes out to you.

Dr. Janice Bell Meisenhelder is author of Surviving the Unthinkable: The Loss of a Child. Reach her at,


Janice Bell Meisenhelder

After the loss of her 19-year-old daughter to cancer, Dr. Janice Bell Meisenhelder turned her grief work towards helping others. She used her insight as a nurse, her experience with peer counseling of other bereaved mothers, and her knowledge of the research to compose a gentle guide with practical tips for healing: Surviving the Unthinkable: The Loss of a Child. Based on scientific evidence as well as personal experience, this book provides comforting help to all bereaved mothers in short, digestible bites in chronological order according to need by topic. It has received rave reviews from leaders of The Compassionate Friends chapters. Dr. Meisenhelder holds a Doctor of Nursing Science from Boston University. Her clinical nursing practice was at Massachusetts General Hospital in medical-surgical, intensive care and oncology. With extensive experience in nursing education, she is currently a professor of nursing at Emmanuel College in Boston, Massachusetts, teaching at both the RN-BSN and Graduate Level nursing courses. Dr. Meisenhelder has published thirty-six articles in professional and scholarly journals, including topics on coping as well as clinical guidelines for working with bereaved parents in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Dr. Meisenhelder currently resides near Boston, MA with her husband. She has one surviving daughter.

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