The woman at the grave of her husband

“Valentine for Mourners” – the healing power of rituals

Valentine’s Day is a special day on the calendar for many people when the giving of gifts and flowers conveys love. But what if the person you love has passed away?  Christina Gedemer, the wife of the mayor of the German town Herbolzheim, created, “Valentine for Mourners”, an initiative to support those who have been bereaved.

More than 150 wooden hearts and letters about love were laid out in eight cemeteries across neighbouring towns and villages. The bereaved were invited to come to the cemetery on 14 February to take a heart and a letter and bring it to their loved ones’ grave.

One such mourner was German pensioner Alma Jakobi from Forchheim, who buried her husband, Harry, in 2018, the day before their golden wedding anniversary.

“I’m still grieving,” the bereaved woman said. “I am here (the cemetery) every day.”

Her husband used to treat her with beautiful self-made gifts and orchids on Valentine’s Day, which had a special meaning in their lives.

Volunteers take action to support the bereaved

Prior to the pandemic, mourners in this small town in southern Germany were offered support by the volunteer group Herbolzheim-Rheinhausen but this has not been possible for almost one year now.

The seven volunteers, including Christina Gedemer, wanted to support the grieving residents and connect to the deceased partners in a tangible way. Together, they sawed hearts out of donated wood and wrote a moving story, which should remind the bereaved that the bond of love continues to exist beyond death. The idea of “Valentine for Mourners” was born.

“We were aware that it could and will hurt whoever reads the story,” said the founder of the campaign.

The volunteers took this risk, trying to avoid bringing feelings back to the surface. “We hoped that the story would absorb this pain in the letter… and (that) it will be good,” Gedemer added.

 The campaign for mourners was a success

The recipient of the offer for mourners, Jakobi, wasn’t sad. On the contrary, she left a cemetery with feelings of happiness and gratitude, hoping that such projects will take place in the future. The overall acceptance of the campaign by the bereaved was overwhelmingly positive. All wooden heart and stories were hoovered up. The mayor’s spouse and her colleagues were inundated with gratitude words over phone calls and emails.

Rituals like “Valentine for Mourners” are essential while coping with grief, as they offer support when the ground is cut from under feet, Christina Gedemer said. “We hit the nail on the head with our offer.”

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