Just as you make it through the grief of the winter holiday season, Valentine’s Day stirs it all up again. Whether it is the first Valentine's Day after death of your spouse or partner, or decades have passed, it is only natural that you would miss the special person in your life.
This is not just true on Valentine’s Day, but let's face it, all those commercials about chocolate, jewelry, and romance just reinforce who and what you are missing.
Even though it doesn’t feel like it right now, you will survive Valentine’s Day. It might not be pretty, and that is OK. Grief is messy — so let yourself off the hook for moving through the day with poise or grace. Instead, allow yourself to feel however you feel about February 14th.
Preparing for Valentine’s Day When You Are Grieving
As is true with all holidays and anniversaries, some of your anxiety around Valentine’s Day can be alleviated by planning how you want to spend the day ahead of time. Even if you toss out “the plan” at the last minute, having one in the first place can help you set a meaningful direction for the day.
To get started, reflect on these prompts, which are slightly modified from my guided grief journal, From Grief To Peace:
- What are the most important things you will remember and acknowledge on Valentine’s Day?
- What types of rituals, actions, or new traditions will you implement to honor your love and loss on Valentine’s Day?
- Who do you want to connect with? Who do you want to avoid?
Now spend some time brainstorming your Valentine’s Day schedule, or at least make a list of things you want to do to make this a meaningful day.
You may also want to listen to the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast #25: Valentine's Day Grief: Creative Ways To Cope With Grief & Celebrate Your Love. This will help you get creative, along with the ideas from the tips below.
7 Tips to Cope With Valentine’s Day Grief
- Commemorate the memory of your beloved. Love doesn’t go away, and we never forget. Nor would we want to. Whether you choose to volunteer for the day at your loved one’s favorite charity, visit their gravesite, write them a love letter in your grief journal, share your favorite stories about them with family or friends, or hike to your favorite vista, remembering your beloved with intention on this day is a way to continue the bond you share.
- Enjoy an at-home self-care retreat. Crawl under the covers with a cup of chamomile tea and a good book. Immerse yourself in a day-long yoga, meditation, and journaling session. Take the day off, grab your grief journal, order a good meal, and pour your heart out. There is nothing wrong with, and everything right about, giving yourself the self-care you deserve.
- Connect with a local Widow/widower/partner loss group. Search online or call your local hospice to see if there is one in your area or that you can access online. Before the pandemic many of these groups would host a Valentine’s Day meal at a local restaurant. Some are hosting online gatherings on Feb. 14.
- Reach out to friends and family. Alone time is good, but if you are withdrawing from the people that support you, Valentine’s Day is just as good a time as any to reach back out. Schedule a Zoom call to share photos and memories of your special person with other people who share your grief. If you don’t feel like connecting with others, that is fine, just make sure it is a choice rather than a habit.
- Order a delicious meal. Many of us are already eating at home, but if you do eat out regularly, know that during the month of February restaurants are full of grief triggers, mostly in the form of hearts and flowers. On Valentine’s Day itself you will see couples celebrating, which can be a painful reminder. If you feel that will just cause you suffering, do yourself a favor and either order your favorite meal delivered, or, if you like to cook, prepare it yourself.
- Plan for “business as usual.” It is totally acceptable to not celebrate Valentine’s Day at all. Of course, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to pretend it doesn’t exist. Even if you treat it like any other day, don’t be surprised if you still have a grief reaction. Know in advance what you can do to tend to strong emotions when they arise. What are your most helpful coping skills? Keep those handy and use them as often as you need!
- Cultivate compassion for yourself and others with meditation. While suggesting that you “be your own Valentine” may sound a bit corny, and it won’t fill the void left when a loved one dies, compassion meditation practice, known as metta meditation, can go a long way to help you feel more connected to yourself and the world at large. You can reframe the message of Valentine’s Day from one of romantic love to a universal love of all sentient beings: animals, spiritual leaders, friends, family, strangers, yourself, and even those pesky difficult people.
- Show yourself kindness and mercy. You will no doubt be bombarded by images and soundbites of Valentine’s Day between now and Feb. 14. Offset the suffering you feel by practicing self-compassion as self-care. Send yourself words of self-compassion and mercy: “This is hard, but I am doing my best,” “May I be free from my suffering, and surrounded by love,” or “I feel this sadness because I love deeply. I would not trade that for anything.” My mindfulness-based meditation for grief and sadness is a useful tool for tending to difficult emotions.
No matter how you wind up spending Valentine’s Day, please be kind to yourself. Your grieving heart deserves it.