“How do I go into this day of hearts without you?”
Laurel Rund posed that question in a poem anticipating her first true Valentine’s Day since the death of her husband, Marty.
She didn’t expect an answer.
It was more a self-assessment.
Where does she stand one year after losing her partner of nearly 42 years?
Like most couples, the Runds were passionate about celebrating Valentine’s Day.
“We were sweethearts,” said Rund, a 64-year-old artist and writer who still lives in the Tara Preserve home she shared with her husband.
“Marty loved cards. He would always shop for the most special, most schmaltzy, most romantic card he could find. I would find the same kind or make one.”
Marty passed away Feb. 11, 2009, from complications of celiac disease. Laurel said her loss was too immediate to allow her to notice Valentine’s Day last year.
But memories of their life together and grief over their separation have revisited her this week as several big events approach.
The first anniversary of his death is Thursday.
Valentine’s Day is Sunday.
Their 43rd anniversary would have been Feb. 19.
His 68th birthday would have been Feb. 26.
“It’s bittersweet,” Rund said. “I feel like he’s around me all the time. ... I know that Marty’s always in my heart. He can’t send me a card, and he can’t send me flowers, but I know he’s sending me love.”
Rund is far from alone in facing that empty feeling as Valentine’s Day approaches.
As the rest of the world exchanges gifts and passes syrupy messages on everything from jewelry to candy hearts to frilly cards, widows and widowers wonder the same thing Rund asked her husband.
How do they get through a holiday made for lovers?
Author Joni James Aldrich said grief counseling often focuses on helping the bereaved get through the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and neglects Valentine’s Day.
Aldrich, who wrote “The Losing of Gordon: A Beacon Through the Storm Called ‘Grief,’ ” lost her husband, Gordon, after a two-year battle with cancer on May 13, 2006.
Valentine’s Day was special for the Aldriches throughout their marriage. Soon after their first date, Gordon left a bouquet of pink carnations on Joni’s front porch on Valentine’s Day.
“It’s true that Valentine’s Day holds significance for most couples, but it was particularly special for Gordon and me,” Aldrich said. “It became a yearly ritual for us to use Valentine’s Day as the anniversary of our first date together.”
Aldrich offers the following ideas for making the holiday easier to navigate for those who have lost a spouse:
n Prepare in advance. “Ignoring Feb. 14 will only work until you see displays of Valentine’s cards in the store, or see the florist busily making the rounds.”
n Know what to avoid. “Stay away from restaurants. The empty place across the table will cast a pall on any pleasant feelings you’ve managed to work up. ... Order take-out or cook at home, but don’t fix that special dinner you used to make with the person you loved.”
n Stay busy. “Play some board or card games rather than watching movies, unless there isn’t a hint of romance in them. ... Focus on a new project that you really enjoy, such as redecorating your home.”
n Allow the emotions to come. “Remember that it’s OK to cry. Let the emotions come — just try to keep them from overwhelming you.”
n Turn your love to other treasures. “Love comes in many different kinds of relationships. Celebrate those, even though the loss of the person with whom you were passionate still hurts.”
Rund is taking Aldrich’s advice. She plans to spend Valentine’s Day with friends.
But she’ll also take time to reflect.
Laurel and Marty Rund met in 1965 at a New York bar when he was 22, she 19. They married in 1967 and had two sons — Brian, 39, and Matthew, 36 — and four grandchildren.
Their love led them from Queens to New Jersey to northern California to Manatee County.
Laurel said Marty, a computer marketer and salesman whose passion for her was nearly rivaled by his love of golf, was known for his “expansive” grin and winning personality.
He was diagnosed with celiac disease about six years ago and followed doctor’s orders about his diet for a while, then lapsed. His condition grew progressively worse until he eventually wasted away and Laurel became his caretaker.
The couple decided to contact Tidewell Hospice on Feb. 4, 2009, to begin preparing for the inevitable. Marty died one week later.
At the suggestion of a Tidewell grief counselor, Rund soon found a creative outlet through art, especially a form of painting called touch drawing, and writing.
She has started her own business, Essence of Laurel, and hopes to publish a journal that would feature her poetry.
“I have just, in my own way, blossomed this year in a way I never would have expected,” Rund said.
“I found my own voice. It came through the arts. It came through spirituality. It came through meeting new people in my life.
“I’m astonished by what’s come out of me. There’s a part of me that feels that our journey together, for whatever reason, ended when it did.
And that I’m now on my journey. It’s very exciting.”
So how does Laurel Rund go into ‘this day of hearts?’
“With Peace,” her poem reads, “because now I understand that your final gift to me has been my renewed love of life.”