It’s a couple’s world…where do I fit?” – Widow of 3 years

Certain dates bring up feelings of loss, grief, and sadness for those of us who have lost a relationship or someone we love.  Valentine’s Day is a notoriously difficult day for many people who feel isolated or lonely or are experiencing profound loss (i.e. death, divorce, significant illness).  Many people look for support online, where a quick Google search leads to infinite blogs, songs, and lists about being alone on Valentine’s Day; however, many of these sources focus on the sadness of being “without a Valentine” and emphasize the struggle of the situation without giving readers tools to work through their pain.  Here are some supportive ideas that can help guide you through the upcoming Valentine’s season or any other difficult day.

Acknowledge the pain:  It helps to validate that you are going through something difficult and painful.  When we try to push away our feelings or belittle ourselves for having difficult feelings, our emotions never truly disappear.  We may be able to avoid feelings of sadness, anger, or grief for a brief time; consequently, these emotions either come back stronger or find another vehicle for expression (i.e. stomach pain or digestive issues, headache, muscle tension) and inevitably cause us pain in some form.  Rather than wrestle all day with this cycle, remind yourself that today is difficult and that it will pass. Give yourself permission to feel the emotions that arise. Then, when you are ready to move forward you can decide what you need or would like to do with the rest of your day. Remind yourself that these emotions will likely come and go throughout the day, and give yourself reassurance that you will be able to handle it when this happens.

Make a plan: You do not “need” to do anything.  You likely will hear many caring people’s opinions about what you “should” do with your day; however, you get to decide what is right for you.  It is helpful to create a rough outline of how you want your day to look ahead of time in order to mentally prepare for the day.  This exercise provides you with some structure and order over a day that can be emotionally chaotic. If it would help you to craft a loose plan for the day ahead, then please do so.  However, if you find that your plans are not what you need or want during the day, give yourself permission to deviate from your plan. Do what feels best for you!

Avoid isolation:  Isolation refers to “the condition of being alone, especially when this makes you feel unhappy” (Cambridge English Dictionary).  It can be very tempting for those grieving to feel that they “have to be alone” on a difficult day for various reasons (i.e. in order to spare others from their pain, because they fear how others will perceive them, or shame that they “can’t get it together.”) Choosing to spend your time alone is very different from isolation. Spending time alone to care for yourself, recharge, and heal is very healthy if that is what feels best for you. If you find that you are isolating yourself, then give yourself options to connect. This does not mean that you “need” to be around people all day by any means. This can be anything from calling a friend to say hello, to connecting with nature, to going out for a cup of coffee and wishing the barista a good day.  These little actions can make a big impact in your day and how you feel.

Show self-compassion:  Most importantly, treat yourself with kindness.  Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend or how you would like others to treat you.  Be patient and understanding with yourself. Some examples of phrases for you to support yourself include: “What I am going through is difficult, and my feelings are valid.”  “Today is hard. Not every day will be this difficult.” “I am doing my best.” Offer yourself these gentle reminders throughout the day, especially if you find that you are being too hard on yourself.

Valentine’s Day can be a struggle for anyone experiencing loss. Keep in mind that grief and loss are different for each individual and any emotions that arise are valid.  Techniques that help one person may not be as effective for another. If you or a loved one are struggling with prolonged grief, please reach out to an experienced social worker or therapist who can help you individually and work through this difficult time.

Amy Neu, MSW, LCSW specializes in serving the elderly and disabled, along with their families and caregivers. She has significant experience counseling families within medical systems and during transitional periods from home to alternate levels of care.

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