Grief Journal of Dr. Donaldson: Surviving Valentine’s Day


Ever since I can remember, Valentine’s Day has been a family holiday. My parents would gift us card and cards. When we got older, we would do the same for them. It was a day for sharing and showing love, not just romantic love.

A True Romantic

When my husband was alive, he was an incredible romantic. For example, on our first Valentine’s Day together, he placed rose petals all of the house. I absolutely loved it! Often, we would go out to dinner, swoon under the night sky and bask in our love for one another. It was sappy and silly and wonderful.


My first Valentine’s Day as a widow came almost three months after my husband had died. Needless to say, I was dreading the day. I now resented the day and all of the couples I knew who would be celebrating this “Hallmark holiday.” My parents helped the best they could with cards and candy. It was not going to be enough. How could it be?

The World Turned Upside-Down

Then, I received a text from my husband’s ex-wife. She told me that my stepdaughter wanted to cook dinner for Valentine’s Day and that I was invited. This was the first time I would be spending time in the home of my husband’s ex-wife … and sharing a meal.

Surprising Solidarity

Emily Post definitely never wrote about this kind of a situation. I wish she had. The dinner felt awkward, at least for me, but was so very sweet. Nothing was going to make this “first” better. Yet, spending it with my husband’s children and surrounded by love helped. It was a reminder nothing was going to be the same, that we were all grappling with the “new normal,” and we would get through it.

Current Status

So, how do I “celebrate” Valentine’s Day these days? I send cards to family and loved ones. I reach out to other widows and friends struggling with this day. I make a point of showing myself love, too. This may mean taking a relaxing bath or hiking in nature or enjoying some chocolate. After the holiday, I visit my husband’s grave to leave flowers and remember how much we enjoyed showering each other with love and affection.


The pain has not lessened. The day itself can still bring me to my knees in tears. I will always miss him, especially on days that remind me of our love. However, I know this holiday is just another day on the calendar. I know it will pass, and I will survive.


This year, reach out to a widow or widower for Valentine’s Day. Send them a card. Call them. Invite them over for dinner. This day sucks for them. Help make it a little less painful.


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