Emotional & Mental Health for Widows

Facing Valentine’s Day — In Love and Alone

by Paula Harris

Widowhood is challenging at any time of year, but holidays tend to make hard times even harder. Romantic holidays such as Valentine’s Day can be particularly challenging for widows, as they serve as a reminder of the great loss these women have experienced.

Like the candy heart says, “it’s complicated.” One day you might feel back to your old self and optimistic about the future and the next you might find yourself in a fog, unable to get up. If you’re a widow experiencing a season of grief, here are some things to keep in mind this holiday.

Grief has no timeframe
This part is really hard to accept, but the truth is that everyone grieves at their own pace. If you’re a grieving widow, it’s especially important to focus on yourself and your own experience, instead of getting caught up in others’ experiences. While it might be helpful to connect with other widows who are able to understand what you’re going through and the pain you are experiencing, remember that your grief journey is your own. Try not to compare your experience and your emotions to those of your peers.

Three steps forward, one step back
There will be good days and there will be bad days. While it’s important to focus on moving forward, remember that you are learning how to navigate your new normal, and that takes time. Some days you might feel right back to square one, caught up in grief and sadness, but there will be glimpses of real hope too. Keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

Embrace self-compassion
As mentioned, you will likely find yourself backtracking at some point along your grief journey, and that’s okay. Healing doesn’t happen overnight. Try not to be hard on yourself as you navigate the good days and the bad ones. Take care of yourself. Let yourself rest. Engage in self-care, whether that means getting a monthly massage, meditating each evening, or reading poetry by your favorite author. Partake in activities that bring you joy. Show yourself compassion.

Look to the future, not the past
The loss of a spouse can make it difficult to find the joy in life. However, the goal of grief is not to get over a loss, but rather to learn to live with it. While a part of you may always ache for your spouse, try to look forward to all the beautiful experiences yet to come instead of dwelling on the past. That’s certainly not to say you should try and forget your late spouse. Continue to share your favorite stories of him, speak openly about him, flip through old photos of the two of you, and keep his memory alive. Just don’t get so caught up reminiscing that you forget to enjoy the life that you still have left to live. Honor his memory by living a full and fulfilling life.

Ask for help
Whether you find comfort in your family, your friends, or your faith, embrace it. Nobody is asking you to carry the heavy burden of loss on your own. It’s true that your loved ones might not know exactly what to say but know that they want to comfort you and be there for you in any way they can. Be open and honest with them and let them know how they can support you.

Spend quality time with loved ones
On a similar note, spending quality time with the important people in your life is a great way to remind yourself that you are still surrounded by love. Invite your sister over for a movie marathon. Grab lunch with a co-worker you haven’t seen in a while. Plan a weekend getaway with your best friend. There will be moments when you just want to be alone, and that’s okay, but try to get out and spend time with your loved ones from time to time as well.

Ask for a hug
If human touch is important to you, you may be missing the physical contact you used to receive from your spouse. The simplicity of a warm and loving hug can help to fill the void. Embrace your loved ones often.

Treat yourself
You don’t need to go out and splurge on an extravagant piece of jewelry or a prepaid vacation but be sure to treat yourself from time to time. Maybe that means you book yourself a spa day or reserve a nice hotel room for a staycation. Maybe it’s something smaller than that; a new book by your favorite author, a latte from your neighborhood coffee shop, or a decadent box of chocolates. Perhaps you treat yourself to a bouquet of fragrant flowers. Whatever it may be, go for it — you deserve it.

Love never dies
Your lover, partner, and best friend may be gone physically, but the unwavering truth is that love never dies. Learning to live with your memories and the love that you still have in your heart will help you to take hold of your future.

Final thoughts
There is no blueprint for grief, no timeline for the loneliness you may feel or the sadness that will linger in your heart, but you should remember that while you may not be physically spending this Valentine’s Day with your spouse, they will always be with you in your heart. They live on in the flowers that bloom, in the laughter that escapes your lips, in the friendships you maintain, in the sun that rises, in your memories, and in your love.

Paula Harris, co-founder at WH Cornerstone Investments, is part financial advisor, part dream architect and widow supporter. Creator of Rise Up Retreats and author of “Rise Up: A Widow’s Journal,” she is passionate about building a community of support and empowering widows to navigate their path forward.

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Knowing there are women who have not only survived what I was going through, but were also thriving and moving forward in their lives.
— MSC Wister® (Widow + Sister)