Table for one: Valentine’s Day after the loss of a spouse

Valentine’s Day is geared for couples. What happens after one spouse dies? Two local women share what happened to Valentine’s Day after the loss of their spouses.

When Doris’s husband passed away five years ago, Valentine’s Day became one of the “firsts” to get through.

“The first year was the worst,” says Doris (we’ve omitted last names in this article for privacy reasons.) The first birthday, first anniversary, first Christmas—each notable date reawakened feelings of loss.

Doris felt down after Rae died but, as time went on she became resigned to her new reality.

“I had never been lonely before Rae died,” says Doris, 82, who was married to Rae for fifty-six years. “And I had never lived on my own before.”

Doris and Rae did most things together. If one went out, the other went too, sometimes just to keep the other company during errands.

On Valentine’s Day, Rae would give Doris a potted rose, and he would take her out for dinner. Doris looked forward to going out each Valentine’s Day.

“It was great because there was no need for me to prepare a meal,” says Doris, “and no dishes to do after.”

Once Doris was on her own, other widows told her to “get out and do something.” Now, Doris joins a group of women each Valentine’s Day, and they all go out for dinner together. Valentine’s Day has changed for Doris, but she still finds the outing enjoyable.

“The only bad thing is you have to pay for it yourself,” laughs Doris.

Susan’s husband passed away in 2008. Valentine’s Day was particularly special to her and her husband, because their wedding anniversary was the following day, February 15.

“We always celebrated Valentine’s Day,” says Susan.

On many Valentine’s Days while they were married, Susan and her husband Lionel opened a bottle of champagne that evening.  Then they’d finish it for breakfast the next morning, on their anniversary.

After Lionel died, Susan kept up their tradition, marking the dual occasion with a bottle of champagne. Nowadays, Susan, 81, doesn’t drink champagne, but still plans to mark the occasion.

“The date coincides with Lupercalia,” says Susan, referring to the ancient annual pastoral festival. “We chose our wedding date of the 15th for that reason.”

Valentine’s Day may change after the loss of a spouse, but some traditions endure.

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Barbara Lehtiniemi

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer and photographer from North Glengarry, Ontario.

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