Surviving Valentine’s Day when you are grieving a loss

by Janet Fanaki

This is about something I have been thinking about for a little while now. Anyone who is living with grief will be able to relate to it.

We’re a few days away from the biggest and most romantic day of the year — if you’re in a couple.

Valentine’s Day.

If you’re not in a relationship, it’s most likely a “trigger” day for you, where you either don’t care about it, want to skip it or are doing some sort of a pivot around it.

St. Valentine was immortalized for his love of God and was named the patron saint of love and lovers.

For a long time it was called St. Valentine’s Day but I’ve read that thanks to the confectionary and florist companies, the saint was dropped and called what we know now as Valentine’s Day.

It was also my grandfather’s birthday and he was the perfect guy to be born on this day.

From the time that my husband Adam and I got together in the mid 90s, Valentine’s Day was of course a day where we both had some fun.

He would come home with an enormous and way too expensive (because it was Valentine’s Day) bouquet of flowers, we’d exchange corny cards and go out to dinner.

Even after we had our children, we made a point of going out to celebrate a dinner for two and still have fun on the day with them as well.

It was important even if it was cheesy.

Some people disregard it as a “made up” holiday but we didn’t care. Adam and I were in-love for over 22 years and this was just another day to celebrate us.

And as for the kids, I would decorate the kitchen in red foil hearts, make heart-shaped sandwiches for their lunches and give them sweets galore. I’m that mom who gets behind these “made up” holidays because it’s fun and in Toronto the winter is way too long so why not?

This Valentine’s Day will mark one year minus a day that Adam passed away at only 51 years old.

Even in the hospital palliative care I decorated the space around his bed with decorations.

Shiny red hearts strung together hanging over his bed, just to let him know it was still a special day for us.

So as with all other special occasions during the past year, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, our anniversary and birthday (we shared the same day, same year) I’m doing a bit of a pivot.

I’m not an expert psychologist but I am someone who has some life experience in this space and I’ve asked some knowledgeable widowed friends for their advice on “surviving Valentine’s Day” when you’ve lost someone who was special to you.

I’m here to share some suggestions that will hopefully make the day a little easier for us all.

The way that I look at it, it’s a perfect time to keep the traditions you love but feel free to start new ones.

Like any holiday or special occasion, it won’t be like others from the past. So let’s look at some ways to bring comfort and a little joy along with some self-love on this day that might otherwise be a little tough to get through.

Tip #1. Make it a self-care day
Start with a workout or just a long walk in the neighbourhood while listening to music, do your nails, a craft, run a bath, take a nice long afternoon nap.

Tip #2. Stay off social media
This is just a good thing to do on a regular basis but particularly on the trigger days. I was given this advice very early into my grief when Adam just passed away and Mother’s Day was the first holiday that followed it. A friend made this suggestion and I am forever grateful for it. Instagram and Facebook are known for catering to FOMO and that’s the last thing you need on Valentine’s Day.

Tip #3. Don’t watch or listen to the news
For this one day, given all of the negative news out there it’s one day that you can take a break and focus on positivity and mental wellness instead.

Tip #4. Connect with upbeat friends over zoom coffees or cocktails
It’s not the same as getting together, we can all agree. But it’s definitely better than nothing, it may feed your soul to be with others and help to pass the time. I’m “seeing” a few good friends on February 14 for coffee in the morning or a cocktail in the afternoon. Just because we don’t have our loved ones around anymore doesn’t mean we don’t still have people in our lives that we love for their friendship. Let’s show our appreciation for our broskies and gal-pals too.

Tip #5. Treat yourself
Everywhere you look on Valentine’s Day it’s about chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate so why not treat yourself too? It can be as expensive or cheap as you like it. Melt it to dip fruit in it if that makes you feel less guilty about it.

Tip #6. Make or order a nice dinner and watch a movie
I’m doing this with the kids and will keep the rom-coms for another night.

Tip #7. Do something nice for someone else
A woman who lost her husband told me that she’s creating small Valentine packages for a local seniors home and dropping them off for the residents. What a nice idea! How about doing something nice for a front-line or healthcare worker you know? God knows they could use a lot of love from us. Finding a purpose can make you feel good while also helping others to feel good too.

And if you are someone looking to help a widowed friend:

  • drop-off a special treat by their door for them AND their children with a little note saying that you’re thinking about them.
  • Take the initiative and schedule some time online with your grieving friend — offer to play a virtual game or to talk or just LISTEN if they need to do the talking that day. Chances are, if you’re in a relationship they will NOT take the initiative to reach out to you on Valentine’s Day. So this is your opportunity to think about someone else and help them feel a little love too.

I hope these ideas have lit a spark for you to think about Valentine’s Day in a whole new way.

I’m still a believer in love and in celebrating it in every way shape or form.

The point is, make this Valentine’s Day whatever you want it to be and show yourself some kindness and love — not just this day but everyday.

Feel free to email me with some ways that you’ll be spending Valentine’s Day if you are a widow or widower or grieving the loss of a loved one. Maybe you can also share an idea of something that worked for you in marking a past Valentine’s Day. Write me at info@resilientpeople.ca

Janet Fanaki is the Host of the RESILIENT PEOPLE podcast and lead creator behind RESILIENT PEOPLE. She interviews regular people around the world who have overcome a major life challenge and found a purpose from it to help others be resilient too. She lives in Toronto with her two children and mini poodle Ella. To learn visit www.resilientpeople.ca