(BPT) - The heart-shaped boxes of candy and cupid-themed decorations started appearing on store shelves around the same time the New Year’s decorations were coming down. While Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a time to celebrate romantic love, it can be an emotionally painful holiday if your partner or spouse has recently passed away.

“Numerous studies have shown that the grief caused by the death of a spouse or partner can seriously affect your mental and physical health,” says Robin Fiorelli, Senior Director of Bereavement and Volunteers with VITAS Healthcare, the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care. “Even if you feel like you’re coping well with your loss, holidays can be especially challenging.”

If the loss of a loved one is making you dread this Valentine’s Day, Fiorelli and the grief professionals at VITAS offer some tips that can help you manage your loss:

Respect your grief

“Grieving is a process that takes time, and everyone goes about it in their own way,” Fiorelli says. “Don’t feel like you have to set aside your grief because it’s a holiday, but try not to let negative feelings overwhelm you, either.”

Mourning is the expression of your thoughts and feelings surrounding your loss. Talking with someone about your feelings can be a helpful way to express them, especially during difficult times like holidays.

Seek support

Although grief can seem like a private experience, isolating yourself on Valentine’s Day may only make you feel worse. Try to spend part of the day with someone who cares about you. Have dinner with single friends, plan a Valentine-themed meal with your children, or find a bereavement support group to attend on the holiday.

If you’re already a part of a support group, ask other members about how they cope. Not only will you be sharing time with people who understand what you’re experiencing, you might learn valuable coping skills.

VITAS Healthcare offers grief and bereavement support to family and friends while the patient is undergoing care and then, following his or her death. VITAS also opens its bereavement support events to people in the community who are mourning.

Treat yourself

Tokens of love are an integral part of Valentine’s Day, so when we lose a loved one, not only do we grieve their loss, but it’s also natural to grieve the loss of those tangible expressions of affection. As an example, if your spouse always gave you roses on Valentine’s Day, buy yourself flowers if having them again this year would make you feel better.

Treating yourself to something nice is a way of taking care of yourself; buy something you’ve always wanted — maybe indulge in a day at the spa or a meal at an expensive restaurant.

Avoid judgment and negativity

Sometimes people are not as patient and understanding as we need them to be. For example, if your partner has been gone for some time, you may encounter someone who thinks you should be over your loss by the time Valentine’s Day approaches. Distance yourself from that kind of judgment, and instead spend time with people who understand that grief takes time, who can allow you to openly share your thoughts and feelings, and who let you reminisce about your loved one when you need to. It can be helpful to share memories of past Valentine’s Days that you celebrated with your partner or spouse.

Likewise, when you find yourself feeling particularly negative, it might help to instead make a list of people, things and circumstances in your life that you’re grateful for. Spend some time meditating, praying or exercising — whatever helps you regain your perspective.

“Loss is a natural part of life and grieving is our natural way of dealing with loss,” Fiorelli says. “It’s important to recognize your grief for your departed partner, and how you cope with grief will be as unique as your relationship was.”