Grief and Valentine’s Day

I don’t want to alarm you, but I just had a look at the calendar and it’s almost Valentine’s Day.  I know some of you were planning to skip from February 13 straight to February 15th, but I can’t let you do that because then you’d be living a day ahead of everyone and you’d miss all your appointments and favorite TV.

Valentine’s Day is one of those “I appreciate you” holidays, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  As such, there’s a whole faction of people who would prefer to ignore the holiday altogether…you know…because the person they’re supposed to appreciate is dead.

I won’t go into all the reasons why grief and Valentine’s Day don’t mix well; if the day is hard for you, you already have an idea why.  What I thought we could do is discuss a few options for making it through the day.

1. Take the day to be completely miserable.  It’s okay to be miserable once in a while.  This is one day when you’re not alone in your misery; a lot of people hate Valentine’s Day.

2. Ignore the day altogether.  Ignore the obnoxious jewelry commercials, ignore the cards, ignore the chocolates, ignore the girl sitting next to you at the doctor’s office chatting on her cell phone about which pair of heels she’s going to wear with her red hot mini-dress for her 7:30 reservations at…you know what?  Just stay home…stay home and don’t turn on the TV.

I can sense you’re beginning to lose confidence in my suggestions.  It may not be realistic to pretend the day doesn’t exist and you don’t really want to spend the day feeling miserable. So let me offer one more suggestion.

3.  Reframe how you think about the day.

Typically when we think of Valentine’s Day we think of romance, that’s why the day is stereotypically hard on people who don’t have a “date”.  But look deeper and we see at the heart of the day is ‘love’ (pun completely intended). Valentine’s Day ought to be about giving and receiving love of ALL kinds.

I can hear some of your starting to groan.  Stop that, it’s not as cheesy as it sounds and you can embrace Valentine’s Day in all sort of ways, big and small.

Friend and Family Love:

Big Steps

  • Invite a group of people over for a casual get together or dinner party.  
  • Plan a night out with others who have experienced the same loss.  Acknowledge the day is hard, but make it your goal to have fun and laugh.  Go to the movies and see a comedy, have a game night, bowl, go to a comedy club, sing karaoke.  
  • Allow your children to pick an activity.  Let them dream as big as your budget will allow.  Grieving children need opportunities to have good normal fun and seeing them smile will warm your heart a bit.  Don’t be afraid to acknowledge that being together as a family highlights who is missing and take every chance you get to remember and talk about your loved one, even if it’s just to say “Dad would have loved this”.

Small Steps

  • Let someone close to you know you are feeling down but don’t want to be alone.  Invite them over for a quiet night in. 
  • Have a movie night with your kids. Choose to watch feel-good movies like comedies, animation, or cheesy old classics.  Order pizza and put on your PJ’s.
  • Send a card or flowers to a friend or family member who you know is also feeling down on Valentine’s Day.  Perhaps they are grieving the same loss you are or they have experienced some other hardship.  Let them know they are not alone.

Stranger Love:

Big Steps

  • Volunteering your time with an organization or charity is an excellent way to interact and connect with people while also helping others. Consider choosing an organization your loved one would have supported and tell yourself you’re doing it in his/her honor.  
  • Attend or join a group of any kind.  I’m leaving this broad for a reason.  Support groups are an excellent way to receive and give support, but there is also benefit in joining any group that gathers around something you like.  Camera clubs, choirs, prayer groups, widow/widower happy hours, you name it; they all allow for the benefit of human interaction and recreation.  
  • Set out to do 5 acts of kindness throughout the day.  Big or small, they will put more love into the world and will have the added consequence of letting you feel good about yourself.

Small Steps

  • Write a letter.  Write to anyone.  Write to an organization or professional you think is doing a good job.  Write to an individual you know who is struggling.  Write to a child or adolescent you want to encourage.  Write to your deceased loved one.  
  • Make a monetary donation.  Make it in honor of your loved one for the amount you might have spent on dinner and a movie.
  • Set out to do 1 act of kindness during the day.  

Animal Love:

Big Steps

  • Spend the day volunteering at an animal rescue or SPCA.  Don’t underestimate how good puppy love can make you feel.
  • If you’ve been feeling lonely, consider fostering or adopting a pet.  Consider…carefully.  Don’t rush into bringing an animal into your home until you’re sure your ready.

Small Steps

  • Spoil your pet.  Spend the day with your dog at a dog park or snuggle up with your cat on the couch.
  • Make a monetary donation to a charity benefiting animals.  Here is a list of national animal-assisted therapy program including guide dogs.  These programs bring love to suffering individuals in hospitals, hospices, and beyond.

Love for Yourself:

All Kind of Steps

  • Recognize your limitations.  Don’t push yourself into an activity you’re not up to.
  • Treat yourself.  Taking budget into consideration, take yourself out for a day of relaxation – whatever that means to you.  It may be a spa treatment, retail therapy, or a monster truck rally; as long as it relieves stress or makes you smile, anything goes.
  • Deliberately set aside time to engage in any activity that helps you cope with grief – exercise, yoga, journaling, art, etc.
  • Allow yourself to be really present with your loved one’s memory and allow yourself to cry for as long as you like.  We all have our rituals and reminders that make us feel close to deceased loved ones, go ahead and engage in them.
  • Believe that next year will be a little bit easier.  

I hope something we’ve suggested helps.  If not, feel free to reach out to us for company on the 14th.

Talking about how to deal with tough days is a common thread on What’s Your Grief.  Subscribe to receive updates about blog posts.  

January 30, 2018

25 responses on "Grief and Valentine's Day"

  1. i want to thank Dr Mack for bringing my husband back, if you have any relationship problem, you can report it to him reach him on this email…[email protected] yahoo. com,,,, ??

  2. My husband died four months ago unexpectedly due to cardiac arrest. He was 57 years of age. Valentines day is our anniversary and we would of been married 27 years. I am so sorry for the pain everyone else is experiencing everyday and especially on Valentines Day. May the Lord help us all to get through it.

  3. 8 months since my beloved left. He actually LOVED Valentines Day. Last year he was in a rehab facility after surgery. And was very upset about missing valentines. My sister and brother in law brought steak dinnners with all the trimmings to the center. They found us a conference room to use and had decorated everything. It was a day of love for all 4 of us. I miss you so much my dear!!

  4. My husband made a big deal for Valentine’s Day even though for the last 10 years we had to celebrate on a different day because I’m a restaurant manager. This is my first one without him in 20 years. I will be working, but have found myself already being so anxious about the day.

  5. My father died a month ago. Every year for 30 years he sent my step mother flowers for Valentines day. Should I resume that in his place and if so, How should I word the card?

    • Charlene,
      What a beautiful idea. I would suggest requesting delivery on 2/12 or 2/13 – less of a shock, more of a pleasant surprise, & there for her to enjoy on 2/14. I’d also suggest not sending the exact flowers he sent – if you know he always sent pink roses, you might ask for star gazer lillies or something purple, just so it’s not too much the same as to be bitter sweet. Your card can be very simple to say you are thinking of her or you love thinking of the love they shared. You might consider a call, text, or email to say keep an eye out for something coming from me if you think unexpected delivery might be a shock. I do think it’s a lovely idea. My sympathies to you on the loss of your father.

  6. I used to enjoy my birthday (Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day) because I always spent it with my beloved mother and lovely, sweet younger sister. After losing our mother in 2012, my sister & I continued to spend every holiday together. We appreciated the time we were given, and we were grateful to see another birthday . My sister had a way of making my birthday so special and memorable, with her unique personal touch. Last year, although she had cancer, we still celebrated our birthdays as we always had. She had energy and life, and she was sharing the day with me, and that was the greatest gift I could ever ask for. The cancer was merely an afterthought. Who could have known that she would be taken from me only three months later. She died two days before her own birthday, and a part of me died with her that night. We had plans for that weekend, and I had sent her card (we loved cards and both exchanged the most meaningful ones we could find or create). The card arrived the day after she died. I also had the gift she requested, a beautiful music box with a cardinal on it. Now I face the first birthday without her, and all I can think about is how meaningless it seems. How can one be “Happy” when their birthday is just a heart wrenching, lonely reminder of the person they loved the most, and lost? My birthday now marks another year without my beat friend and soul mate. What makes it worse is the constant reminders of the day all around me. This is “Heart’s Day” but mine is shattered.

  7. I am royally screwed and have already started with severe grief as Valentines Day is also our Anniversary day!
    My wife passed from stage 4 lung cancer that spread mets to her brain with 20 tumors in August- she was 62 and she got 2 months from diagnosis- the poor soul.
    But now on the 14th our anniversary clock -my most important and valued accomplishment as I always told her- STOPS for good at 37 years.
    Wait we had just retired and we had oh at least 20 years already was going to be a wonderful life after so much hard work and effort- thats what we both thought! We never saw it coming!!
    The pain is not waiting its already started. My grief is consuming me now every day-swallowed up.
    This will be month 6 and its only getting worse- I can only imagine my walking dead anniversary coming up.
    The holidays were bad enough but this one will really drive it home to me!
    I am scared. So while like Christmas and humbug- I will be dreading the day everyone else smiles and loves and probably spend it sulking in the house which now has served as my own tomb.
    I shall go to bed early and cry myself to sleep.. Make it end-make it end.

    • Gary

      Try to be gentle with yourself and know all those feelings you have are real and normal. It is so hard but the only way you will get to the other side is to walk through it. Although it was not our anniversary. Valentines Day was special to my husband and I. He was not a big romantic except for that day and our anniversary.
      On my first Valintines Day without him in 2018. I took a couple of our wedding pictures and went to dinner myself at the place where we had our wedding reception. I set the pictures out and I ask that they set a place for my sweetheart They were wonderful. I also went very early in the evening so as not to be surrounded by all the other lovebirds.
      I am not saying that is the answer. It is just what worked for me.
      We too had “plans” for retirement that will never be fulfilled. So I understand and will keep you in my prayers. Please take care and know you

  8. What do you do if Valentine’s 2018 is the 4th anniversary of your 18 year old son’s death by MVA?

  9. My husband, Just passed away on the 30th of Dec. right after Christmas right before New Years and now Valentines day is coming up the holidays will never be the same, I miss him so very much. My Heart is so broken my only thoughts are is I hope now he is watching over the two babies that I had lost as miscrriage at 5 months along. I am hoping they are in haven with you.


  11. Be careful with the retail therapy. If done too often, or go over budget you could increase your stress issues. When using retail therapy, either set a dollar limit or a frequency limit. Also, sitting a few extra dollars aside each week will allow retail therapy time without worry.

  12. My anniversary is Feb 1 my husbands birthday Feb 13 Valentine’s Day Feb 14 and my husband of 30 years passed away last year Feb 29. Everyday is good, bad, and hard, thank you for this site.

  13. My only child was diagnosed with a brain tumor on Valentine’s Day in 2008, life as we knew it was forever changed. He died April 16, 2009. Diagnosis day is so much harder than the day he died, all of the million reminders of Valentine’s Day makes the day unbearable.

    • Ah Jennifer, I am so sorry. It is so hard when those horrible days (crapiversaries, as we like to call them!) fall on already difficult days, like holiday. It makes those days doubly painful. Hope you survived what I am sure was a tough weekend.

  14. It took me almost 10 years to think I could “move forward,” whatever THAT is, after someone in my family was murdered. And I’ve NEVER found the closure the POTUS talked about with family members of 9/11 victims after they found Osama bin Laden and the president spoke to a group of us. I wasn’t there; it was videographed and I watched it on the White House’s web site.
    OTOH I didn’t feel like I could even start whatever process you need in order to move along in the journey from grief to healing from it, not until they found Osama bin Laden. I don’t know why that is and don’t try very hard to figure it out anymore but it took almost 10 years for the process to begin bc it took that long to roust him out of his rathole.
    It’s really hard to heal when your 15 y.o daughter is asking questions like “Did dad’s soul make it through the flames that consumed his body? If his body didn’t survive to be identified how do we know his spirit did?”
    All that did was make it way more difficult to be okay with the forgiving of the enemy part. I see the specific people who killed him or helped with it as enemies. It has nothing to do with whole religions but specific people within a faith. And anyone thinking like them.
    The first year after it happened I was still feeling uncomfortably numb. I didn’t stop feeling the shock of what happened until someone else in my family placed himself in direct danger by going to Iraq as part of a combat unit. Then I thought I was about to lose another family member (I was convinced it could happen regardless of how well trained our soldiers are) and I fell apart.
    I didn’t start feeling better until Richard, my daughter’s godfather and a Vietnam Veteran, told me to stop living by the standards of everyone else. He told me that the things that cause PTSD, like war and crimes committed against you, are chaos. The things you feel while it’s happening to you aren’t wrong and don’t contain a value judgment. You feel how you feel, nobody else tells you how to do that and certainly don’t inform you of what’s “right and wrong” in that case.
    I didn’t know that before he said it and he’s a really intense person sometimes. Especially about Vietnam. When people say it to him he replies “Don’t tell me about Vietnam, because I’ve been to Vietnam.”
    He was a sky soldier the first time and an Army Ranger the second. He can’t be mentally browbeaten in any way. I’m not as good at resisting as he is but I no longer believe I have to live by anyone but my own life’s experiences. I mean I don’t have to be as hard on myself as I was.

    • I am glad you have Richard for support, Vicki! Living by your own standards are words of wisdom so many could use in their grief, as we so often feel so many external pressures that complicate and make even more difficult an already impossible time. Also, it is a daunting task to be a parent supporting a grieving child when you yourself are grieving. There are no ‘answers’ in grief, but when so many complicating factors are impacting your grief, as you describe, support from others can be crucial- friends and family can be huge, and a therapist and support group can be such an important piece of that ‘healing’ (a word I don’t love but I always struggle to find a better one!). I hope you are finding the support you need!

  15. My husband killed himself with a gun shot wound on his head on February 21, 2015. It was one week after Valentine’s day. The last card, flowers and a heart shaped box of chocolates was the last thing I received from him. It’s going to be very hard to go trough that day this year. I feel so much pain and sorrow and is not a matter of letting go what it used to be but is a matter of forcing to come to the realization that I am forced to let go the best thing that has ever happen to me. I loved him with all my heart and soul. I don’t want to be forced to let it go. Why???? I don’t deserve this. I still love him as it was yesterday and I cannot move forward knowing that he is gone forever and not by normal cause but due to his choice to leave this earth and living me here stagnant and alone.

  16. Linda,

    That is a really great idea for a journal activity. Thank you for sharing it. I’m so sorry about the death of your husband. I’m sure your missing him today.


  17. Mark,

    I’m so sorry about the death of your dear Donna. I can only imagine how hard today must be for you. My thoughts are with you and I look forward to reading your article.


  18. I was thrilled to find your site and blog. Donna my wife was dx with lung cancer in January 2009 and passed away August 2011. I have written on my grief and grieving. It is my belief, as you have written, that to resist your emotions means the pain will persist. CS Lewis wrote a wonderful essay “A Grief Observed” it is a tough read but filled with insight. Another author Elizabeth Harper Neeld wrote a small book “Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World, Seven Choices” This text is well written and speaks in tones and voices that fit with my grief.

    A long piece I wrote “Caregiving, Loss, Grief, and Recovery: A Journey” can be found here:

    My reason for writing was your post on Valentines Day and the emotions it creates since that was Donna’s birthday as well. To your point I have posted pictures of Donna on Facebook for our friends and that helps. But the reality is this time even two plus years after her passing remains raw and difficult.

    Thank you for your site and caring posts.

  19. Beautifully written. Thank you.

    I lost my husband of 34 years on November 9, 2013. Of course, now, there are a lot of firsts that are painful; but with the help of someone I value highly, I turned that around a bit and decided to write in my journal all the firsts we had in our life together. When we first met, first said hello, first date and so on. It really made me feel joyful and grateful for the life we had. I read this somewhere–‘I still have the 34 years’ and I am very grateful and thankful for those years.

  20. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, and grief is the form love takes when someone close dies. This means that the public focus on love can evoke painful longing and yearning and sadness for those who are bereaved.
    Losing a loved one is among the most challenging things we ever face. People we love anchor our lives. They help regulate our emotions and guide our plans. They are a part of how we define ourselves. We celebrate this connection on Valentines Day, yet for some of us the celebration serves as a reminder of what has been lost. For those who have had time to make peace with a loss, reminders evoke feelings that are bittersweet and poignant. For those who have lost loved ones more recently or those caught in prolonged acute grief, the feelings can be intense and painful.
    People experiencing acute grief often feel lost and lonely. Reminders of the deceased person usually trigger strong feelings of yearning and sadness. Sometimes there are other painful feelings, like fear, anxiety guilt, resentment, anger, or even shame. It’s good to remember that grief is like love – multifaceted, complex and unpredictable. Also like love, grief is an experience that is both universal and unique. We all experience grief and we each experience it in our own way. It is important to remember both of these facts. There is no right or wrong way to feel after we lose someone. However, it is important to stay true to ourselves and to practice self-compassion, especially when reminders like Valentines Day activate the pain.

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