I can still remember the exact wording of the email.
‘Hi Olivia, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and we understand this can be a sensitive time for some. If you’d prefer not to receive any Valentine’s Day emails, just let us know by opting out here and we’ll take care of it. We’ll still keep you in the loop about everything else!’
It was from a greetings card company I subscribed to, which dropped into my inbox towards the end of January. An email that lots of people would simply be able to ignore, delete, and never think about again. I, however, was very grateful for the email, belonging to the ‘some’ that was being referred to.
I lost my husband Dave to chondrosarcoma (a type of bone cancer) in March 2019, so this year will be my first Valentine’s Day as a widow.
Being my first, it’s hard to know for definite how I will feel on the actual day. I’ve heard so often from other widows and widowers that they find the build up to significant dates worse than the actual occasion itself. On the other hand, it’s a day that is quite literally focused on love, romance, and relationships, so it wouldn’t surprise me if I do find it triggering.
I already feel a slight unease about approaching the day and am not really looking forward to potential ‘have you got anything nice planned for Valentine’s day?’ questions from people who don’t know what I’ve been through.
To be honest, Valentine’s Day was never a huge deal for me and Dave, and we celebrated it minimally. Nevertheless, it still stings to see heart-shaped displays in shops, to know that I can’t send him a card, to think of all the Valentine’s Day posts I’ll see on social media, to know that on a day when others will experience romance, I will experience sadness.
One of the first things we bonded over when we met was our mutual love of Friends and Harry Potter. Over the months we also discovered a shared interest in good food, true crime documentaries and travel.
Dave was intelligent, witty and passionate, and our relationship was tested in ways no couple should have to be tested over the last few years of his life. But it was a strong, loving, supportive relationship, and I miss it so much. He was and will always be my best friend.
It also hurts because thinking about Valentine’s Day this year takes me back to our one last year, which I spent with Dave in hospital. The card he gave me has lived on my bedside table ever since that day. Looking at it brings me to tears every time, a cruel reminder of how bone cancer had devastated his body – his upper limb mobility had been lost and his hands were unable to grip a pen to write even three short words properly. The handwriting in the card looks like it belongs to a toddler, not an independent, healthy, happy man who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
Once Valentine’s Day has been and gone, it means I’m that bit closer to our wedding anniversary in March, another special day we will no longer get to spend together. Ten days later will be a year since Dave died, and two weeks after that it’s his birthday. It’s hard to imagine a time when I won’t feel sad approaching the weeks in late winter/early spring.
I plan to spend this Valentine’s Day with a friend and we’ll have a takeaway and watch a film.
It feels like pretty much the ultimate cliché – and possibly what Dave and I would have done – but I know that’s what will work in helping me to cope and feel less lonely.
If there’s one ‘good’ thing about Valentine’s Day as a widow, it’s that as much as I will be reminded of the memories Dave and I can no longer make, and the love my husband can no longer give me, I will equally be reminded of so many wonderful times together and of the love we did share.
It’s a love that has changed in form but which will always exist, and it’s a love I will treasure forever. I may not be spending Valentine’s Day with Dave in person, but I will be spending it with him in my heart.