Is it better? Is it worse? Well…it’s just….different.
There is a misunderstanding about getting through the first year of grief. People expect it to be the hardest. And in most upfront and in-your-face ways it is. People expect that after it’s over the griever will start gaining bearing on their altered life. People expect a sense of normalcy to return to them.
In reality, the second year is far, far, far from those expectations.
My second year of widowhood was nothing like the first. The sudden death of my husband brought a raw, open wound to my soul. That wound brought the shock, denial and intense fire of grief, as many would expect at the beginning.
The intensity of those specific things can ease after a year or so. In that way it usually is better. But the second year brings its own pain.
As the intensity lessens of the initial reactions, it gives rise to the long-term reactions. The grief shifts from a raw open sore to an infection spreading its bacteria deep into the unseen areas of the soul, bringing a different kind of affliction. The denial wears off. The shock wears off. The numbness starts to wear off. What I’m left with is a more vivid reality of life now staring me in the face.
Instead of getting through the day, the survival mode of the beginning, I am now able to realize that the rest of my life will be like this. The far-reaching effects…the permanent amputation of my future…all becomes more clear. And it is an unbearable weight. The shock that once let me have an excuse to not live up to par of society’s expectation, is now gone. I have to parent, and work, and clean, and make plans and organize my life. But my heart is still floundering like a caught fish.
Yes, the first year makes us face many “firsts.” The first anniversary without them, the first birthday, the first holidays, etc. I braced myself for those firsts. But those seconds and thirds? They hurt too. Why? Because the enormity of how long I have been without him boggles my mind. As the timeline of my life keeps plodding along, the distance pains my heart. Like a drifter floating away from the island where there is safety and hope. And all that drifter can do is watch as the island fades into the distance. Those seconds and thirds represent the fourths and fifths, the tenths and fifteenths to come. Oh, and that hurts. The looming future without an escape to the nightmare.
The second year seeped in a type of depression that wasn’t there in the beginning. This…this is why it was hardest for me. What many don’t realize who have never experienced a profound grief is that the longer time goes on, the more chance there is for realization to settle of how my life will never be the same. Like dust after an explosion. The first few months I knew. But I didn’t know. The more times I faced a setback in life without the aid of my husband, the more the sinking feeling drowned me. The more times I faced exhaustion in parenting grief-stricken children alone, the more the reality weighed me down. The more I went to bed alone, the more I swallowed my need to share my day with my partner, the more I craved the comfort only he could give….the more my soul shriveled.
I tenaciously fought to take the reins of this new life during my first year. For months I actively took charge: trying to get involved in activities, be social, I switched churches, took trips. It seemed the more I tried, I still got nowhere. I still felt lost. I still felt sad. I still felt confused. I still felt so lonely.
So, so lonely.
And so the depression came that second year. I couldn’t see a way out of this new life I didn’t want. I couldn’t figure out what my goals were. I couldn’t figure out how to get better. I couldn’t figure out how to make anything better. And so the blackness of despair trickled in and I didn’t want to try anymore.
The second year is a different kind of sickness than the beginning.
Does time help? Of course. But it takes way more than a year. That first year simply exposed my heart to all the pain… to everything that has changed. The second year it truly begins to sink in. Being lost settled into my soul. It wasn’t until my third year that I finally felt like I could breathe again. And the healing is still happening.
If you know someone in grief, or you yourself are in grief…be patient. Grief is a multi-year adjustment.