Looking at ourselves and the world through the lens of the 21st century.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Navigating Valentine’s Day for the Recently Widowed


In our first season of the Modern Musings podcast, Amber, Christen, and I explored the topic of Grief During the Holidays, which we supplemented with blog posts from different perspectives. It’s been one of our most popular episodes to date, and I suppose that is because we all experience grief at some time or another and are all looking for ways to cope with it. Holidays and other special occasions are always tricky because those are often the times when the loss is most profoundly felt. Some holidays and family gatherings are easier to cope with than others because you can change your routines, celebrate differently, or even not celebrate at all. But what do you do when the deceased person is the reason you celebrate the holiday? What do you do to cope with Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, or even that person’s birthday? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. 

My husband, Mark, and I were married for 35 years. More than half our lives had been spent waking up together, sharing daily meals, giving thousands of kisses goodnight, and building countless little routines and traditions that I am only beginning to realize have been suddenly and completely broken. Just the other day, I got a reminder in the mail to schedule my next colonoscopy, and it struck me that I don’t have my person anymore – I just took for granted that whenever I had a medical procedure, Mark would be the one to drive me there and back. And now, the next thing I must deal with is Valentine’s Day.

We’ve mentioned love languages in a couple of previous episodes, but we haven’t gone in-depth. Mark’s love language was giving gifts. He literally spoiled me with his gift-giving because he wanted me to have everything I wanted or could need. If I put something on my Amazon wish list, it was likely to find its way under the Christmas tree or be presented to me on my birthday. He was also a creature of habit. If something worked once, he would do it over and over again because he didn’t want to mess with a good thing. He would stick to the same plan until I got tired of it or we found something better. So it was in this way that we stumbled into some of our favorite holiday routines.

We ritualized our favorite Valentine’s Day restaurant more than 20 years ago. Sweet Basil is a quaint little Italian bistro owned and operated by the same family for countless years. We’ve eaten there a number of times since we’ve lived in the Dallas area, but Valentine’s was always our favorite time to visit because they had a special menu just for the occasion. My favorite was the Veal Oscar, but Mark tried almost everything. We always started with either some crab claws, shrimp scampi, or maybe bruschetta, and a delicious bowl of lobster bisque. Dessert almost always consisted of a double heart-shaped strawberry Napolean and a cup of cappuccino. We had spent so many Valentine’s Days at this lovely restaurant that the owner/host recognized us when we came in at other times. We even had stories from various visits that we would retell years later, like the story of the year we barely had enough money to pay the tab. We laughed about it often, and it became part of the charm of going back again and again.

In about two weeks, I will face my first Valentine’s Day without Mark, which scares me. His loss is still very raw, and I’m not sure of the best way to deal with it. Mark won’t give me a beautiful Valentine’s card this year. He won’t send me roses or buy a box of my favorite Godiva chocolates. We won’t share a meal over Veal Oscar and stories of Valentine’s past. The thought leaves me sad not just because he won’t be there, but that those traditions are forever broken by his death. I don’t just miss him…I miss all of it. 

I was thinking about that the other day and wondered, how am I supposed to cope with this? Do I just stay home and not celebrate at all? That feels so depressing. Could I go to the restaurant and have dinner alone in his honor? I think I would feel very lonely. I think it would make me cry. I don't want to do that in the middle of a busy restaurant on Valentine’s Day. 

I decided to research what other widows do to cope with their grief on these kinds of days. I was surprised to find that there was so little information available. I found many articles on how to take care of yourself as a widow – all the reminders to practice self-care and to take things slowly. Likewise, there were many articles on supporting a widow on these particularly stressful days, like being patient, reminding her that she is loved, and acknowledging her loss. I did not find much of anything sharing how other widows had managed their first Valentine’s Day after becoming a widow. Then I found a post on Our ClassCee Life blog titled “How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day When Your Valentine is… Well… Dead!”

Written by a widow with two young children, Our ClassCee Life chronicles the author’s journey through widowhood along with a “13,800-mile 83-day trip around the country” in an RV as she coped with her loss. Kristyn’s story is fascinating, and I look forward to reading more about it, but I need her tips on dealing with Valentine’s Day right now. That’s where she talked about treating herself just like her husband would have done. 

I could tell that we had like-minded husbands when it came to gift-giving, and those quirky but always useful and genuinely appreciated gifts are something else I am definitely going to miss. So, I may take a cue from Kristyn’s book and buy myself something that I want…something that Mark might have bought for me. I might even invite my son or one of my single/widowed friends to share that special Valentine’s meal with me. And maybe I’ll do something new and meaningful to honor the man I loved, like making a charitable donation in his name or volunteering to help others.

Whatever I decide to do, I know that it will be okay. I know that all of these changes are just part of the process of grief and that I will find what works for me as I work my way through it. I just have to remind myself that it’s okay not to have all the answers. It’s okay just to wait and see what happens, and it is okay to let others love and support me in this journey. I just need to take one day at a time, and I will get through this holiday and all the others that follow. Life will go on. It always does.

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