This coming Valentine’s Day, Americans will celebrate by exchanging about 144 million cards, purchasing flowers and jewelry and giving gifts of candy, clothing and even gift cards.
Many Americans, however, will not feel in such a celebratory mood. In 2018, there were 3.47 million widowed men and 11.41 million widowed women living in the United States. That’s a lot of people dealing with the absence of a spouse, and there are even more suffering grief over the passing of an unmarried partner.
If you’re one of them, Valentine’s Day may seem only a painful reminder of your loved one’s passing. You may cringe at all the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and vases of flowers in your local grocery store and wish you could just skip from February 13 to February 15 without having to acknowledge the holiday.
Of course, you can completely ignore it all if you want and bury yourself in your work, but that may not be the most supportive thing you can do for yourself. Instead, consider the ideas we have below for ways you can celebrate that may help you process your grief and perhaps even feel a little better.
Before you think about how you might be able to celebrate Valentine’s Day, remember it’s important to accept your feelings, whatever they are. There is no timeline on grief and no set schedule for when you are supposed to be “over it.”
The initial effects of a loss are often the most difficult. Both men and women face a 66 percent higher risk of dying in the first three months after a spouse dies, a condition often called the “widowhood effect.” The effects of grief can linger on up to a year after the death or longer, however, showing up at unexpected times and throwing life out of balance.
Grief can be even more difficult when friends and family expect you to “get back to normal” quickly. In a WebMD survey, over half of respondents — 58 percent — said they felt pressured to recover within the first three months. Nearly all — 91 percent — said they felt others expected them to “move on” within a year.
Everyone is different, though, and you must respect your grieving process. If you aren’t over it in six months, don’t repress your feelings or try to fake your way through. Give yourself time and cope in healthy ways. Talk to a psychiatrist, journal, eat well and, if you’re having trouble sleeping (which is common), talk to your doctor about potential solutions.
Seek support from family and friends who are there for you and consider joining a group of others who have lost spouses too. Group therapy is often very effective as the other people may be more likely to understand what you’re going through.
It also helps to recommit to your passions and purpose in life. Feeling like what you’re doing is worthwhile can create positive experiences even while you’re working to cope with your grief.
If you find yourself slipping into negative coping techniques, such as drinking too much, shutting people out, jumping into unwise relationships or overeating, talk to a therapist. If these behaviors to go on too long, they could cause serious damage to your health and your life.
7 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day After Losing a Partner
Yes, Valentine’s Day is for lovers, but it’s also for family members and friends. See if you can get involved in some other type of celebration that doesn’t involve couples. Maybe you can spend the day with your grandchildren, go out with other single friends or put together special gift baskets for the important people in your life.
You may enjoy hosting your own party. Invite a group of people over and let their laughter fill your home. You may not feel like it at first, but preparing for an event can get your mind off any sad thoughts, at least for a time.
Valentine’s Day is a day to focus on anyone and everyone you love. Show others how you feel and open your heart to other types of relationships. All of our connections matter, and the nonromantic ones can be particularly important following a great loss.
Few things help us feel better as much as helping someone else. Who do you know who is suffering this Valentine’s Day? Maybe another widow or widower could use a pick-me-up.
Perhaps a colleague suffered a recent disappointment and could use some encouragement. People in the nursing home or children at the hospital are always in need of a little TLC. Perhaps you can put together some gift baskets or stop by to visit.
Think about how you may help someone else this holiday and see if it doesn’t help you feel a little better.
If the grief is fresh in your heart, it may help to go through a ritual to commemorate your relationship. Put a group of pictures together in a scrapbook, hike to your favorite vista and leave something there that you both loved or write the person a letter sharing your feelings about them.
You could also plant a flowering plant or tree, volunteer, for a day at your partner’s favorite charity or donate some of his or her favorite items to a person who would appreciate them. Some people write poems. Others take flowers and cards to the gravesite.
Another option is to post a picture of your loved one on Facebook or Twitter and mark the day with your connections. Be careful — some people can be cruel online — but if you have a supportive group of followers, their good wishes can be heartwarming. Do what feels right to you.
4. Do Something Important for Yourself
Your partner, if he or she were still alive, would want what is best for you. Remind yourself of that fact by doing something important for yourself on Valentine’s Day. It can be anything.
If you’re not sure, focus on what you need. Have you gone to the doctor for a checkup recently? Are your cupboards full of healthy foods? Are you exercising or should you sign up for a gym membership or cycling class?
How is your wardrobe? Do your clothes make you feel drab and sad? Maybe you need a few new outfits to lift your mood. How about your home? Does it make you feel welcome and nurtured or does it bring you down? Maybe a bit of cleaning and redecorating would help improve your mental health.
It’s often hard to focus on yourself, particularly if you spent a lot of time before your loved one’s passing as a caregiver. Try to understand that your partner wouldn’t want you to go downhill. Think about what you need to help yourself and then address it.
5. Head Out on a Trip
Sometimes there’s no better solution than getting away for a few days. Find a mountain cabin, grab a few friends and go on a skiing trip. Head out to a nearby resort and pamper yourself with a massage or spa treatment. If you’re tired of the snow and cold, go somewhere warm and bask in the sunshine.
Take someone with you if that would help, but don’t be afraid to head out on your own too. Sometimes, having the freedom to do exactly what you want can be very healing and help you regain your feet after a devastating loss.
6. Further Your Education
Getting back into life can be one of the most difficult things to do after a significant loss. On Valentine’s Day, maybe you can sign up for a community class on photography, writing or painting. Maybe there’s something you always wanted to do but just never got the time, so why not try it now?
If you’re still working, maybe there is a conference you’d like to attend or an online course that would enhance your skills. Maybe you’d like to try a side hustle and need to learn how to start a new business or build a website.
Education is never a waste of time and money. No matter what else happens, you’ll have what you learned, and you never know where that may take you.
7. Get a New Pet
Studies show that people with pets typically recover faster from grief than those without them. A cat, dog or even a bird, horse or goat gives you another living thing to take care of and love, which can pull you out of bed in the morning, get you out of the house and force you to stay involved in a life that may not hold much happiness at the moment.
If you already have a pet, celebrate Valentine’s by getting that pet a special treat or even by scheduling a photo shoot for the two of you. If you don’t have a pet, consider getting one. Remember that it’s an important, lifetime commitment, but one that may have many benefits for both of you.
Duffin, Erin. “Marital Status of the U.S. Population by Sex 2019.” Statista. Last modified November 22, 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/242030/marital-status-of-the-us-population-by-sex/.
Koenig, Debbie. “The Grief Experience: Survey Shows It’s Complicated.” WebMD. Last modified July 11, 2019. https://www.webmd.com/special-reports/grief-stages/20190711/the-grief-experience-survey-shows-its-complicated.
Roberts, Amy. “A By-the-numbers Look at Valentine’s Day.” CNN. Last modified February 14, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/14/us/valentines-by-the-numbers-trnd/index.html.
“‘Widowhood Effect’ Strongest over First Three Months: Study.” Nydailynews.com. Last modified November 14, 2013. https://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/widowhood-effect-strongest-months-study-article-1.1516870.