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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published February 11 2012

Addressing Valentine’s Day for surviving parents

Dear Carol: My father died a month ago and I’m worried about how to handle Valentine’s Day for my mother.

My parents had a good marriage and had always made Valentine’s Day special for each other. I’ve thought about just ignoring it, and sometimes I think Mom would prefer that. However, other times I think that maybe we should do something to honor Dad’s memory and their marriage. How do people handle these times? – Jennifer

Dear Jennifer: Valentine’s Day is tough since, like a wedding anniversary, it’s considered special to the love relationship.

Just as not talking about your father’s death may seem easier at times than witnessing the grief your mother may express when you do bring it up, ignoring this special day may seem like the easiest solution. However, likely it’s better to bite the bullet and address it since your question indicates that your mother will be aware of the day.

You, as an adult child, may want to say something to your mom about the fact that while you are aware that nothing will replace the special attention she and Dad focused on the day that honored their love, you would like to treat it as a day to celebrate all kinds of love.

You might also suggest that you know that your dad would want the family to honor her for him. You can do this by giving her flowers or a gift. Cards are available for grandchildren and adult children to send. Homemade cards from young children are especially appreciated.

Expect the day to be painful for your mom. Encourage her to talk about your dad, but don’t force it. Show her, in as many ways as you can, that she is loved. Let her know you miss your dad, too.

It’s possible that you have traditionally sent cards or flowers to your parents on Valentine’s Day. That would make family attention to your mom less awkward.

My parents, too, considered Valentine’s Day special. Mom was very ill for years, and only lived five months after Dad’s death. One of those months, however, was February. The family did get cards for her that Valentine’s Day and I ordered flowers from the family, but we’d never done that routinely before Dad died. Now I wish we had.

Did remembering the day help Mom? I really don’t know. She was grieving and would have been grieving either way. But all we could do was our best. The same goes for you. Try to mark the day without going overboard. Let her grieve and comfort her. It’s all a tough process, but one you’ll get through.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.