You cannot avoid it. Valentine’s Day is coming whether we want it to or not. When you are grieving the death of a spouse or partner, February can be full of triggers. You have just finished the winter holidays and may think there is time to breathe and just feel the everyday pangs of grief, but just when you think it’s safe to go back in the stores or watch TV, there is an explosion of hearts and couples and love everywhere.
Valentine’s Day before the death may not have been a big deal to you as a couple. You may have scoffed at it as a “Hallmark Holiday” and barely acknowledged it, or you may have celebrated to the fullest, or maybe it was a nice excuse for flowers, chocolate, and a date night. Whatever you did or did not do to celebrate, it can be hard to see others’ expressions of love around when yours is missing.
Let Lane Pease Hendricks, Director of Education & Innovative Programs at the Atlanta-based grief support organization Kate's Club, offer some tips that may help coping with Valentine’s Day as well as the lead up. Most of all, find what works for you.
1. Prepare yourself for grief triggers
Triggers are hard to avoid. If you have young children, you are most likely buying and preparing 30 or so valentines to give out at school (oh, and don’t forget to attach the sucker and can you bring 30 nut free cookies to the class party?). You may see co-workers or classmates receiving bouquets of roses.
This may involve going to the store and as soon as you walk into your local pharmacy or grocery store you will be flooded with red and pink. This may cause a grief burst. A grief burst is an unexpected flood of grief that can cause you to cry in the flower section of the grocery store or yell at the cashier that asks you if you have big plans for Valentine’s Day.
Preparing yourself emotionally can help. Knowing that until February 14th you will see reminders everywhere is helpful. You may even want to order things online if you find yourself triggered every time you walk in a store.
It’s not bad to have a grief burst, and sometimes it can feel good afterwards, but knowing what to expect can help. Oh, and watch out for social media around Valentine’s Day. It can be hard to see the gushing and romantic posts of others with their partners. Or you may want to post a tribute to your partner. You choose what is right for you.
2. Celebrate your love
Kate’s Club founder Kate Atwood often says, “at its core, grief is love.” You may want to honor your love and your grief. You may want to visit the gravesite, write a letter in a journal, or share stories with your children and friends. You could take a walk outside to a place that gives you peace if you have one and spend time remembering your partner. If you can, donate in honor of your person to a charity that connects you with them.
3. Celebrate your friends if you are grieving on Valentine’s Day
It can help to celebrate with friends if that helps. With the trend of “Galentine’s Day”, you can celebrate friendship instead of romance. Planning a brunch with friends on the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, or even dinner at home, may help. Avoiding restaurants at dinner time, especially the weekend before and on Valentine’s Day, is key.
4. Have a delicious meal
At Kate’s Club, we serve children, so many of the adults we serve are parenting while grieving. If you have children at home, order a special meal in. If your budget doesn’t allow that, cook at home with your children instead. Have a movie or game night after dinner. If you don’t have, kids you can still use that food delivery service for your favorite meal.
5. Wallow in your grief, if you like
There, I said it! You can shut the world away (easier said than done if you have children at home), watch a sad movie, cry, eat chocolate, and just be.
6. Treat yourself with compassion if you are grieving on Valentine’s Day
Often, we find it easier to meet others with compassion than we do ourselves. Do not beat yourself up if you cannot face some of the grief triggers mentioned, or if you have a grief burst. If you are a parent of young children, give yourself a break if your cookies are store bought and valentines are not homemade because you do not have the capacity, or your partner used to bake and craft with your kids. Reframe Valentine’s Day as a time to show love for yourself and all those around you and look at love in a more universal way.
7. Find support and connect with others
On Valentine’s Day, or any day, reach out for grief support from a grief specialist or grief organization. If you are parenting while grieving, ask for help and find a community of others. Studies show that group grief support is very helpful when facing grief.
I wish I could say that after Valentine’s Day it’s all easy sailing for people grieving, but there are other holidays around the corner, and we all have our own individual dates (anniversaries, birthdays, death anniversaries) that are especially difficult. The grief journey itself seems fraught with landmines. Remember to build your community with programs like Kate’s Club. You can also reach out to your local hospice or faith community for a support group. And if I see you crying in Walgreens, I promise not to stare but I may ask if you need a hug.
Contact Kate’s Club for grief support in Georgia
Kate’s Club empowers children and teens, their families, and young adults facing life after the death of a parent, sibling, caregiver or someone important to them. We build healing communities through recreational and therapeutic group programs, education and advocacy. Since its founding in metro Atlanta in 2003, Kate’s Club has served thousands of individuals who are grieving, through both direct service and outreach programs. Kate's Club offers services in Atlanta, Albany, Athens, Brunswick, Cobb County, and Newnan, GA. For more information, visit katesclub.org.