As a widow, holidays can really suck. Christmas, Family Day, Thanksgiving…they all are occassions where you’re expected to hide your grief, and sit at the dinner table beside the ghost of an empty chair.
The worst holiday is Valentine’s Day
Even worse than a treasured anniversary, where the date is privately special, Valentine’s Day is the worst because the world is shouting at you, “Be Happy! Be In Love!” with all the hearts and flowers they can fit on an advertisement. All you want to do is crawl under your covers and cry.
The first year is the roughest
I’m not going to candy-coat it – your first year surviving Valentine’s day is horrible. It’s a sucker punch to the gut. There’s so much going on in your first year that maybe the weeks and months run into each other, because time has no meaning anymore. It’s just one long bad dream. Maybe Valentine’s Day wasn’t that big of a deal when they were alive – but now, it’s just a very potent reminder that you’re missing someone.
Five years on, it still hurts
You know what I’m expecting to do come Valentine’s Day? I’m going to cook myself a steak, feed the kids pizza, get them to bed, and then spend the night watching tear-jerk shows with a bottle of wine. Or maybe not celebrate at all. Who knows. In widowdom you realize that despite best efforts to plan ahead, sometimes things happen without warning and you just have to go with it. I’m not just talking about death, but how your capacity to deal with things can change depending on the moment.
From my experience, here are some things you can do on this ominous day to get past it, and onto the next moment.
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Get out of your routine
It’s a heavy day, so instead of going through the motions, break out of your routine. Wake up half an hour earlier than usual to drink your coffee. Read the newspaper in peace. Instead of having a shower, have a bath instead. Give yourself space to breath, and allow yourself to accept any and all emotions that will come today.
Write/start a journal
If you find at any point that you’re at a breaking point, stop what you are doing, grab a piece of paper, find a safe quiet spot, and write. Get the raw feelings out of your system and onto the page. It doesn’t have to be pretty or even edited – this exercise is just to dump all your immense emotions. You’ll feel much clearer once they are out, and you can go back to whatever else needs your attention.
Later, when you can carve some time out for yourself, buy a pretty lined journal and some smooth writing pens. This will be your sacred space, where you can take the scraps of scribbled emotions you’ve previously written, and transcribe them onto the blank page. By rewriting your words, you’ll be viewing them with a clearer head, and will be able to better grasp what’s really moving you. You’ll have better insights on how you’re feeling. It’s like a mini self-therapy session. Try to commit to writing in your journal once a week.
Buy yourself some flowers
Bring a little bit of life into your world, some colour to remind you that life can be beautiful. And a reminder that you are important too. You don’t have to go all out with a dozen red roses – that’s traditional, and we’re looking to break with tradition this year. Buy yourself your favourite flower, be it a simple daisy or sunflower, or a sophisticated orchid. You can certainly get a bouquet of cut flowers, but I’d personally recommend a living plant. Cut flowers are bright and beautiful, but short lived. Why not get a flowering plant? An orchid is a favourite, but so is a pansy. Have a black thumb? Then try a Christmas cactus – it isn’t fussy about watering, and it will flower on occasion.
Give it a special spot in your home, where you can see it during your daily routine. It’ll help remind you that though you’re alone now, you’re strong and beautiful and deserve love – especially from yourself.
Order in pizza
It might not be a romantic candlelit dinner at Chez Louis, but really the kids would have been a disaster there. Make this a night where you can celebrate your family – and remember your loved one together.
Let’s proactively avoid any mealtime fights. Instead of making dinner, order pizza for dinner and use napkins as plates. No food prep or dishes for you and no complaints from the picky-eaters. Win-win! Make it extra special and let the kids have a personal size pizza each with their own choice of toppings. You can get your own with olives and sundried tomatoes, or skip pizza altogether and order from the other side of the menu. Regardless of what you order, it’s not time over the stove. It’s spending time with those that you love.
Have a bubble bath
Some find lying back in a warm bath, filled with scent infused bubbles tremendously relaxing. Pour yourself a glass of wine, dim the lights, light some candles around the tub, maybe even put on some soft music. I adore my bath bombs from Lush, which have such a variety of colours and smell that explode upon impact with water, fizzing away. They’re packed full of essential oils to calm nerves, or invigorate tired senses. Whatever you’re in the mood for.
Maybe your mind is racing too much to relax? Then grab that book you were meaning to read but couldn’t when the kids were climbing all over you, and let the story overtake your thoughts. Or, grab your phone and start up a mediation app. There’s lots of them out there, but I’ve been using Headspace for two years now, and find it easy to follow and I’ve learned quite a few self-regulation tricks. Just be careful not to drop your phone in the tub.
Watch a tear-jerker movie
Want to cry but you can’t? Still stuck in self-preservation mode but feel the need to let out some of the backlog of grief? Grab a box of tissues, an optional box of ice cream, and a movie that’s guaranteed to make you cry.
I’m one of these types – I hold my grief down to get through the days, but then when things become too much I need to watch something that will give me permission to cry. I’ve written about how I’ve used the TV program This Is Us for just this purpose.
Giving yourself a safe time and place to cry is an important self-health tool, and Valentine’s Day could be the ideal time for you to use it.
Cry, scream, punch pillows
Sappiness may not be where you are right now. All those pictures of lovey-dovey couples with the saccharine smiles and ridiculous puppy-dog eyes just make you sick. The constant reminders of how your loved one is dead is not what you need shoved in your face again and again. The world is full of happy couples, and you’re here alone. Deprived. Frustrated. Angry!
This day kinda, really, maybe SUCKS! You’re right. It does suck. And you have every right to be angry! The world tore you away from the one person who made you feel complete, it tore your happiness away. Nope!
So scream as long and loud as you need. Punch pillows, kick stones, scream to the heavens to bring back your love even knowing how futile that effort is. Which just makes you angrier. So scream, and punch, and cry some more.
Just make sure you are in a safe place to do this. If you’re kids are light sleepers, do it in a room where you know it’s sound proof. Have neighbours living above you? Mention it to them a few days before that Valentine’s Day will be difficult for you, and give them a heads-up so they won’t call the police.
If you need to punch something, make sure it won’t injure you. We don’t want this to be a self-harm situation, but a self worth one. If at any point it becomes too much, please do not hesitate to call for help. You are absolutely allowed to feel all the anger and hurt and betrayal – just ensure that you’re taking care of you. This is your Valentine’s Day, after all.
This day is about reconnecting with a loved one, and this year it should be reconnecting with you. Physical contact is something you’ve probably been missing this entire time. Getting hugs and cuddles from the kids certainly helps, but it’s not the deep need that everyone has. Allow yourself to connect with yourself again this day. Get your glass of wine if wanted, dim the lights, read stories or watch movies, or maybe just lie in bed and let the memories being with your loved one hold your body.
Bring relief and contentedness to yourself, as it’s probably been a while. And love yourself the more.
Ignore the day completely and shut down for the night
Maybe all of this is too much, and all you want to do is turn off the world for a while. It’s been so loud and in your face for so long, and the build-up to Valentine’s Day has worn you out.
If (after making sure the kids are fed and in bed) you want to throw yourself into bed, duck under the covers and escape from the noise – then give yourself permission to do so. Make sure you’ve tried to eat something, drink some water, and check in with yourself routinely. But otherwise, turn off the world for a while. Tomorrow is just another day.
No matter what, you’ve got this
Valentine’s Day can suck really hard. But, it’s only one day. One day out of the many that you’ve already conquered. This one is no different. Except, maybe you’ve given yourself a chance to breathe. To love yourself. Which is exactly the right thing to celebrate this Valentine’s Day – YOU!
As a only parent to two kids, who is also a widow, I know how you need resources.
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