Surviving Valentine’s Day grief
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.
It will be one year since Craig experienced a very difficult day when a man died suddenly while Craig was doing some work for him. His wife will be mourning the anniversary of the loss of her husband. So many of my own recently widowed clients will face the day with dread rather than joyful anticipation.
“Grief is just love with no place to go”
For those who have lost a loved one, every day can be tough, but days like Valentine’s Day and other special days can be even tougher. Having just “coped” with getting through Christmas and facing a New Year alone can mean that Valentine’s Day can feel particularly cruel when the pressure to “show your love” is seemingly everywhere – shops are full of “heart-shaped” paraphernalia and social media feeds seem saturated with posts from all and sundry declaring their undying love for each other.
Finding ways to cope with this day if you are in grief can be really hard, but being as prepared as you can be will help. Below are a few ideas on how to survive the day.
1. There are no rules
First things first – remember that there simply is no right or wrong way to grieve. So, don’t feel like you need to put on a brave face and hide your tears or for that matter don’t feel like you can’t be seen laughing or celebrating Valentine’s Day – you need only give yourself permission to do whatever it takes for you to cope regardless of what others might think or expect.
2. Cope ugly
George Bonanno a professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, U.S.A. coined the phrase “coping ugly” as a way of saying that behaviours that might not seem ordinarily “healthy” may be helpful in times of grief and stress. In other words – coping with grief is for the most part not “pretty” nor should you feel pressure to make it somehow a thing of beauty – you just need to find a way through. Equally if finding a way to make your grief journey as positive an experience as you can is what helps you press on, then keep doing that.
3. Fill your day with distractions
If you prefer to ignore Valentine’s Day all together (and let’s face it – you are not alone in making this choice – there are plenty of people who chose not to mark the day) then you might instead choose to fill your day with distractions. It might be going about your day as you would any other, or it might be filling your day with activity. If you don’t want to be inundated with messages from others then let others know that you plan to boycott the day and what you would or wouldn’t find helpful so that those around you what to do (or not to do!).
4. Create your personal grief ritual
If you prefer not to ignore Valentine’s Day but don’t know how you will face it – then spending some time to think about creating your unique personal grief ritual can be helpful. You are only limited by your imagination on what those rituals might be. A few ideas specific to Valentine’s Day are listed below, but you can ignore the ones that you know won’t work for you, adapt the ones that resonate for you to be meaningful to you, or make up your own.
Express your love
Death ends a life but it doesn’t end love.
Whether you buy a Valentine’s Day card, write in a journal or craft a more public post (in the newspaper or on social media), express how much you still love them.
Write or find a poem that expresses how you feel or put together a playlist of your loved one’s favourite songs.
Attach a love note, or a wish or a prayer to a balloon and let it go, make a paper boat and float it away, or take your note and burn it sending the smoke heavenward instead.
If you have painful memories these types of actions (burning notes, sending them out to sea, burying them etc) that symbolise “letting go” can help connect you to a physical act of letting those memories go.
Create a new memorial or gather in old memories
Consider choosing a tree or a flower or other plant to plant on Valentine’s Day. This might be in your own garden as a plant you nurture or as an annual ritual you do as part of a community planting. Consider leaving a plaque or other marker – or set up a bench close by as a place to sit and remember your loved one.
Perhaps you could buy a special candle that you light in memory of your loved one, or you could name a star after them. Consider making an annual donation to a cause in memory of your loved one and encourage others to do the same.
Spend Valentine’s Day gathering in mementos, letters, cards and photographs of the special moments you shared as a couple and put them together in one place. You might like to make up a Valentine’s Day memory box, or put together a Valentine’s photobook or slideshow that you revisit every year.
Return to a place of significance
If you shared a special spot with your loved one – the place where you met, or where you shared your first kiss, where you got married or where you shared your last happy memory – consider visiting that place on Valentine’s Day as a way of honouring the love you shared.
Continue your Valentine’s Day traditions
If you celebrated Valentine’s Day with your loved one, consider continuing those traditions – perhaps with your children or with other close friends or family.
Ask others to share their memories
Often part of what makes Valentine’s Day difficult is that others around you can unwittingly seem insensitive as they express their love for their significant other publicly. Asking others to share their memories of your loved one with you on Valentine’s Day can serve as a gentle signal to those around you to remember that you will find the day a hard one and it can be a wonderful way to see how your loved one’s memory lives on in the lives of others. Just be mindful that this can be a double-edged sword – if you hold an expectation from others that is not met. The request to share those memories might best be made to those you know are grieving your loved one too.
Valentine’s Day is a day for expressing love so why not give yourself a little TLC. Buy yourself some flowers, take yourself off to get a massage, or line up other pampering you might enjoy. Do that solo, or ask a friend who might also be feeling lonely on Valentine’s Day to join you. Buy yourself the gift your loved one purchased or go ahead and get the gift you had always hoped to get. Spoiling yourself might be a new way to mark Valentine’s Day in a way that reminds you to take care of yourself.
5. Celebrate all forms of love
While Valentine’s Day might seem to focus on the love that couples share, we all experience so many other types of love – the love for our parents, our siblings, our children – the love we have for our dear friends and extended family – and for some, having a personal faith can mean knowing an unwavering, unconditional and eternal Love. Focusing on these many other forms of love and celebrating those on Valentine’s Day instead can be another way to change your focus for the day to a positive one.
However you chose to manage the day – never forget that this is no right or wrong way – only your way to find whatever works to help you through.
It has been said that:
“Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief there was great love.”
As the day where love is celebrated approaches I hope and pray that you can take comfort, in some measure, in those words as you remember the one you loved so greatly.