The Surviving Spouse’s Guide to Surviving a Hallmark Holiday

4 ways to give yourself what you deserve on Valentine’s Day — and every day — when you’re missing a dead partner.

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RoseAnna and her husband, Timothy Bragdon, in Madison WI

Valentine’s day is upon us. The magical day of love and romance, when smug couples walk, hand-in-hand, through candlelit restaurants to feast on overpriced red wine and juicy cow flanks. We are bombarded with messages of romantic expectation. Solitude in the media sea of mashing lips and happy endings. A relentless reminder to the all sad, lonely people of the world that we have failed at meeting the basic human need of love.   

This will be my second Valentine’s Day without Tim, my love of 12 years. Red jelly hearts cling to a window framing the fringed mid-February landscape. The heart-shaped décor that adorns supermarket entrances and doctor’s waiting rooms are a reminder of the heart attack that mercilessly ripped him from this world at 34. Hearts love. Hearts beat. Hearts stop, dead muscle manually pumped by sweaty EMTs on the floor of your best friend’s Brooklyn living room.  

Hearts shatter. Hearts heal.

22 months out from catastrophe I am slowly learning to navigate the post-loss world. The pain has softened its edges and tucked itself into the corners of my day-to-day existence. A constant companion, quietly reminding me of the life I had. Encouraging transition into the life ahead. 22 months out, I have crumbled and burned and birthed myself into a new existence. My concept of love has broadened and expanded with the vacuum that Tim’s death created. But you know what? Valentines day still effin’ sucks.

So with the authority I have earned as a bad-ass young widow lady, I offer you the following unsolicited advice:

1. Be your own damn Valentine. Order those fancy chocolates. Book that pedicure appointment. Pick out the flowers that you want to display grandly on your dining room table for one. Get the notebook she would have given you. Bake that cake he always made. Set yourself a candlelit take-out dinner and put on the playlist that makes you feel ok. You’ve learned to take care of yourself. You’ve learned just how strong a person needs to be. Embrace that. On Valentines Day, you get what you want, sweetheart.

2. Wallow In the endless sorrow.It’s ok to be sad, my friend. The heavy weight in your gut just before a grief wave. The flashbacks that trap you in torturous memories. The sensory reminders of who you were then, before the bleak realities that hit when life tore away the protective curtains. You might feel that today.

It’s ok if when you go on social media, you “heart” react to all the adorable couple pics while secretly wondering which one will die first. It’s ok to indulge yourself in self-soothing behaviors and may or may not be super excellent for your health. It’s ok to listen to rage music in your open cubical, with dark sunglasses on under fluorescent lights, angrily flipping off your co-workers. They might judge you, but I won’t. It’s ok to be pissed. It’s ok to be heartbroken. It’s ok to just feel generally bummed out about today. To feel a catch in your throat at the sight of a bouquet or valentine. And it’s totally ok to feel fine too. Let it in. But let it out..  

3. Celebrate the love you have.We may have lost our lovers, but we have not yet lost our ability to love. We grieve the sacred connection of the person who knew your innermost world. The person who shared your bed and morning coffee. The one who served as companion, lover, friend, confidant. That person may be gone, but we still have people. Celebrate your friendships. Embrace your children. Bake cookies for your co-workers and neighbors. Reach out to the people who are still here with you, and let them into your world. Love comes in many forms, through countless people. The people who are still here? They want to be here for you. They might not completely understand (who can?). You may need to teach them the ways to be there for you. They love you. Pinky-swear.

4. Know that today is not forever. You know this by now. These days when all the world seems to be conspiring to drag you face first into the churning grief ocean. When everything you experience reminds you of everything you have lost.  These days that our brains flood with sensory memories, threatening the stability of the emotional progress we have battled for. These days are not forever. Tomorrow will feel different. A year from now will feel different. Our grief may not end, but our worlds will grow. With that growth comes healing. One day. Someday. Probably not today.  

We are stronger now, regardless of how we may feel on painfully arbitrary calendar dates. We have the power and potential to move forward with the resilience we have earned. To bloom where we are god-damned planted. So throw on those dark sunglasses. Eat all the chocolate. Stand outside in the slanting February sun and primal-scream to the heavens for all the cruelty they have inflicted. You will get through today, just as you have gotten through every other day. Your heart still beats. My dear…you are still alive.  

RoseAnna Cyr is a counselor, mother, and official member of the widow club living in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. RoseAnna doesn’t really have any “spare time”, but she sure loves to garden, create, cook, and blog at www.sorrowpie.com.  

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