“Year two is harder than the first.” In the early days after losing my husband, Joe, I’d read how the second year of widowhood and grief is often harder than the first. ‘Uhh, yea right,’ I’d say to myself, usually as I was rocking with our daughter in her room at bed time or pacing our tiny living room at 3am because once again, sleep just wasn’t coming that night.
I couldn’t imagine how a whole year from now would be any worse than this. The numbness, the constant ache in my chest that often made breathing the most tiring task. Having just ended that fourth trimester, coming out of the newborn fog, attempting to figure this life out as parents, only to have the person I am supposed to do this life with suddenly, in the blink of a very tired eye, gone. No way, nothing could be worse.
And here we are, two years and three months later and, welp, I’ll be honest and say, I think I get it now. I can’t say that year two was harder than year one, per se, but it absolutely came with a new and yet still the old, set of challenges, triggers and heartache. And ok, some really joy filled moments, too. Here’s how I saw the second year after my husband died.
You’ve heard the saying, “sh*t got real?” That may be one of the most summed up ways I could describe the second year as a widow. Even though the world kept spinning and time kept moving immediately after 6:29 am on December 4th 2020 for the rest of the world, it stopped completely for me. And that seemed to be OK throughout the first year; to live in the hazy, slow, surreal little grief bubble, enveloped in the shock and numbness. Friends and family would come visit, send thinking of you texts and expected sadness in month 4, 6 and even 9.
Then, that one year mark hit and although more open and honest conversations about grieving are happening, society still seems to have this inherent notion that grief somehow subsides, gets less than and the date that marks one year is also some kind of expiration point. But the reality is, the date on the calendar that represents 365 days, it is only the beginning.
I think the truth is, those who have not yet experienced a life altering loss have a difficult time imagining carrying the weight physically, mentally, and emotionally of grief into yet another year. Well, actually, I think most could imagine it if they tried but it’s so uncomfortable, painful, we try to avoid it and I get that. I was right there with them, too.
Supporting the Griever
If I could go back, I wish I knew then what I know now. I would have asked more questions, not have been afraid to ask how or what support was needed. Not try to fix it and know it cannot all go back together. Grieving takes WORK people, a whole lot of it. Continuing to show up for a grieving friend or family member takes work, too and it isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be exhausting and so, people may pull back a bit or a lot. There will be some that assume you’re fixed as though grief is a broken bone or that you’re ready to move on and that if you’re not, you somehow should be. Some may expect the return of the old you and become frustrated when they realize that version of you isn’t coming back.
And on top of that, the people around you tend to have their own lives; spouses, children, jobs, home, you know, all those rather time consuming yet beautiful life things. So the reality is, they’ll put them first as they should but the person who put you first is gone and so, it’s a complex bunch of feelings to work through when year two or three shows up and this is now another layer to your reality.
Relationships & Grief
Year two has taught me to realign your expectations of those in your life. I want to make clear, this is not a bad thing and although it may sound like a business partner strategy, it very much applies to the people partners we choose to do life with, too. Grief is unpredictable. It’s dreaded and scary and unknown and in none of our classes in school did they prepare us for it. Society has created a love and loss narrative that is filled with inaccuracies and unrealistic notions and ideas.
Our support systems as we grieve are learning or perhaps unlearning right along with us and understanding it’s ok to adjust the expectations you have for these people, and them for you, doesn’t mean you love them or they love you any less. It simply means you’re learning what they can give and what they can’t. What you can give and what you no longer can. Although it can be challenging and sometimes devastating, it’s essential to the growth of your grief.
In the second 365 days of living with loss, you’ll spend it learning to redefine the relationships in your life while simultaneously learning how to navigate every day without the relationship you planned to always have.
With that being said, this second year has also been battling with expectations I put on myself. I promise, I take accountability here, too. Perhaps it’s the preconceived notions in the subconscious mind that make me feel like I have to be or present a certain way according to the calendar timeline of my loss. There is a very large part of me that feels like people expect me to be.
As year two crept in, so did the dread of reality and this time, it was without the shield of the foggy, denial filled eyes. Those eyes were bloodshot and tired but their vision was clear: this is my life now, our life and I have no choice but to live it. I had to start living again along with the rest of the world. But the thing is, I couldn’t help but feel as though they got to live it in the same way as last year and the one before that. They continue to navigate this world as the person they are. When you lose a partner, you lose any chance you had to continue the life you were living and it suddenly becomes who you were. Year one you lost your person. Year two, you realize, you lost you. . . .
Be sure to check back for the next blog post about discovering the new you, built by your grief.