Bereaved on Valentine’s Day

When the one you loved—and the one who loved you—has died, how do you get through Valentine’s Day? If you’re in this situation, please accept our condolences. Perhaps just when it seems it couldn’t get any more difficult, you’re assaulted by images of love everywhere. Cards, ads, commercials, conversations are all painful reminders of the love you’ve lost.

There’s probably nothing that will ease the pain, but there may be a way of slightly shifting the way you experience it, if you’re up for trying.

First, have a plan. Ask yourself, “How do I want to spend the day? What are the things that help me?” Sometimes, that’s being with others who have gone through what you’re going through. If you can’t find that among your friends, consider looking for an online grief group, which can be a wonderful source of support.

“Isolation is such a huge part of grief,” says Ann McKnight, an experienced social worker and psychotherapist in my community. “Part of the depth of the pain of grief is feeling alone, like you’re the only one who has ever felt this way.” Connecting with others going through the same thing will help you feel less isolated. (Ann recommends for a range of resources.)

If you do decide to spend time with friends, choose a friend who won’t have any expectations of you and who will give you room to do what you need to do, whether that means crying during your time together or canceling at the last minute. “Hold whatever plans you make loosely,” says Ann, knowing that you may want to change them—and that’s fine, too.

Second, remember that love comes in many forms. On Valentine’s Day, the focus is on romantic love, so it’s easy to lose sight of that. “We don’t only receive love,” Ann says. “We are also a source of love for other people in our lives.” If you have the energy, show your love to someone—a friend, a sibling, a mentor. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture. Even reaching out with a short phone call can help shift the focus of the day from what’s missing to what you still have.

Finally, don’t be surprised if the actual day isn’t as bad as you fear it will be. Ann says that many people find the anticipation of a holiday to be more difficult than the day itself. “So if on Valentine’s Day you think, ‘Hey, I’m not having a horrible day,’ that doesn’t mean you didn’t love the person you lost,” Ann says. “Grief cannot be predicted.”

Do you have suggestions that might help others? Please share them!

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