Valentine’s Day: how to support your friend whose partner has died

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

In this blog, Hannah, Gavin and Adelana share their experiences of losing a partner, and what that means for Valentine’s Day. If you’re supporting someone who is grieving their partner, why not read these top tips for how to love them best on this tricky day…

Hannah’s experience

After losing my partner, Charlie, in June 2021, I won’t be receiving any Valentine’s cards this year and my day will look a little different to the last February 14th. Looking back at the card I received last year and reading the words ‘I can’t wait for the years to come as we build a life together’, I feel as though I have been punched in the stomach. Yet still, I can’t help but feel lucky to have experienced a love with someone who was so certain that I would be an integral part of his future.

I still think there is something to celebrate about a day centred around the human emotion that we covet the most

Charlie and I never took our relationship for granted and frequently reminded each other how lucky we were to have found someone that we were so ‘sure’ about. Going from having my life mapped out with the person that I love to being thrown into a world of uncertainty is something that I don’t know if I’ll ever fully come to terms with.

The 7 months since losing Charlie have felt like both the longest and shortest months of my life. It feels like minutes ago that I received the call to say that he was gone – a moment that will be etched in my brain forever – but it also feels like a lifetime since I heard him laugh or was able to walk to the shops holding his hand. Thinking about the life stretched out in front of me without him often feels overwhelming and at times unbearable, but I am incredibly lucky to have a support network who make my life not just bearable but enjoyable.

How is losing a partner different?

As someone who has lost both a parent and a partner suddenly by the age of 26, I often think about the difference between the grieving process for the two. For me, the difference lies in what your parents and partner stand to represent. I found the loss of my dad easier to rationalise as, although premature, your parents represent a part of your past and them dying before you is, sadly, the natural order of things.

Losing a partner at a young age is entirely different as they represent your future. When I was told that Charlie was no longer with us, not only had I lost the person I love the most but also, I had lost the future that we had carved out together. In the last Valentine’s Day card that I received from Charlie, he also referenced the ‘milestones’ that we were yet to hit. Even 7 months into my life without him, I am still coming to terms with the fact that if I do hit those ‘milestones’, they won’t be with Charlie.

The right support

I previously mentioned the fantastic support network of family (including Charlie’s family) and friends that have made life ahead seem bearable. I could not wish to be surrounded by a more supportive group of people and those closest to me have instinctively known when and how I needed their support.

A ‘thinking of you’ text can make someone feel less alone

If you’re supporting someone going through the loss of a partner, it’s important to remember that the experience can be incredibly isolating. In a room full of people, I can often feel like others just ‘don’t get it’ and can occasionally even feel resentful of others who don’t realise how lucky they are. Whilst you shouldn’t have to censor yourself, it’s important to acknowledge the difference in your experience before complaining about your partner not putting the washing away. It’s not to say that you can’t say these things, but it is important to acknowledge your privilege in being able to feel aggrieved over something so trivial.

It is also important to just remind the grieving person that you’re there, even if you’re unsure what to say. Even just a ‘thinking of you’ text can make someone feel less alone. From my experience, doing practical things, for example, cooking, washing clothes etc. can feel like an impossible task when your world has been ripped from under your feet. If you are able to offer practical support to someone grieving, send them a meal kit, clean their home or just offer to help them with life admin. Most importantly, don’t feel afraid to show or tell them that you care.

Making new memories this Valentine’s Day

As I am writing this, I have 24 hours until I head off to Mexico City for an alternative Valentine’s Day celebration. Although I am physically getting as far away from memories of everything that I have lost, I know that Charlie won’t be far from my mind. To anyone else experiencing the loss of someone they love, I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Gavin’s experience

My wife Rhiann died in September 2020 of stage 4 triple negative breast cancer, leaving behind me and our two young kids. Being a young widow has put me in quite a unique situation – even within the grief community. Talking to other people who have experienced unfathomable loss, I still seem to get the “head tilt” when I explain about losing the love of my life while raising a 2 and 5 year old.

What’s next after loss?

Before Rhiann died she told me that at some point I’d need to move on after she had died. I remember the conversation so vividly; I’ll never know how she didn’t fall apart telling me that. I told her that no woman would ever replace her and she will always be the kids Mum. The prospect of moving on is scary. I haven’t dated since I was 18 years old and I just don’t know where or how to start. Not to mention that I don’t want anyone else, I just want Rhi back.

Since Rhi died I’ve found a new appreciation for the little things

The hardest parts of the day are getting home to an empty house with nobody to talk to, and when the kids have gone to bed. The silence is deafening. It’s so easy to take for granted that people have other people to talk to, but the reality of grief is that you usually don’t have the capacity to reach out to people who have offered you help. Housework is often one of the last things on my list to do. After sorting myself and the kids out there isn’t much left in the tank for cleaning.

Since Rhi died I’ve found a new appreciation for the little things. Things that used to infuriate me hardly even register anymore. I appreciate a nice moment with the kids, a great meal, or the beautiful night sky that she is no longer able to experience. Gratitude is the name of the game; although things are tough and sometimes seem unfair, I just remind myself how lucky I am to still get to wake up every day and watch the children grow.

Grieving healthily

Self care is of the utmost importance, without taking care of the basics for myself I’d simply fall apart. Accepting offers of help when they come along, responding to a text (albeit ages after I receive it), and getting some fresh air have all helped me immensely. Remembering to treat myself with the same kindness I would treat others has been so difficult to master; we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to act a certain way around others for their sake, but you need to look after yourself first. Personally, I also write to Rhi when I’m having a particularly heavy grief day and just want to talk to her.

Try to remember that Valentine’s is just another day. Maybe do something you would’ve together, like get a take away and watch a film. Or sack it off entirely and get an early night. Whatever works for you at the time is all you can do. Whatever you end up doing I hope you have a great day.

Want to find a community of grievers who understand loss? Check out our meet ups and join your local group.

Adelana’s experience

Most people remember birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas can be difficult for someone who has lost a loved one. However, I always find Valentine’s Day one of the toughest days. I am reminded that I lost my love and how rare this is when you are so young. I find myself getting jealous of seeing people in love and wonder what today would have been like if Henry was still here.

My best tips for coping on Valentine’s Day when you’ve lost a partner:

  • Treat yourself to some flowers, chocolate or a small gift (or a big gift!)
  • Organise a dinner party with your single friends
  • Take some time to write down some of your special memories with your partner from previous Valentine’s Days
  • Try and avoid social media!

Just remember, it’s only one day of the year. Sending lots of love to anyone who is struggling.

If you’ve lost someone close to you, Let’s Talk About Loss can introduce you to other young grievers who understand. Check out our meet ups here.