Monday, January 25, 2021

Coping with Grief In The Second Year

[Reviewed and updated August 10, 2023]

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling into at night. I miss you like hell.  ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

A reader writes: How does one deal with the overwhelming grief at 14 months and 9 days....for me it is harder and more painful now. Am I crazy Marty? I have not dreamed of my husband since he went to Heaven, except a nightmare the night he died, that they lost him in the tunnels in the hospital. I can't feel him, no one will say his name and I am trying desperately to understand this all. Does it mean that since I cannot dream or feel him that I did something wrong? I feel that way. My doctor/therapist told me that the second year may be harder and she was so right, am I the only person that feels this way?

 I go through the motions of work, of pretending I am okay, but all I want is my husband back and that will never change and it hurts so much that people tell me that I have to go on for my boys and our granddaughter, what do they think I'm doing right now? I am so tired and then I feel guilty because I could never even imagine how tired my beloved was with his chemo treatments and I feel betrayed by God so much right now. How do you get good results, stable results on the brain tumor one day and then exactly one week later the beginning of the end starts? I know I am rambling Marty, I know I should not apologize but I am. I will never understand any of this and yet I am trying, trying and getting more lost each day.

My response: You’ve raised some very important questions, my dear, and I will do my best to address them.

First, I can assure you that you certainly are not “the only person that feels this way.” Just reading some of the posts in our online Loss of a Spouse, Partner, or Significant Other forum will convince you of that. 

The notion that the first year of grief is the hardest, and the time when support is needed most, is a common misconception. There is nothing magical about getting through that first year without the physical presence of your loved one ~ it simply means that you’ve managed to get through your first four seasons of grief, with all its special days (that is, the first birthday, first wedding anniversary, first holiday, etc. without your beloved), so that this year, the next time that special day comes around, you now are able to say, “I made it through this day last year, and now I know that I can do it again.”

This re-awakening of intense grief many months following significant loss is not at all unusual, and in fact is normal and very common. You say your doctor / therapist told you that “the second year may be harder and she was so right.” For some, the second year is indeed even harder than the first, because the protective barrier of numbness has disappeared and by now, all those secondary losses are apparent. The reality is that we need ongoing compassion and support ~ which is why we encourage the bereaved to consider joining a grief support group, most especially at this particualr point in their grief journey.

You’re frustrated with those who tell you that you “have to go on,” and you are left to think, “What do they think I am doing right now?” As Harold Ivan Smith often says, the challenge for mourners is that we are grieving our loss in a “get-over-it,” “move on with it” world. He suggests that some of our friends may have no idea of what we are experiencing and no understanding of it either ~ especially if they’ve never experienced the loss of a close family member. His advice is this: “Focus on your grief. In the future, when your friends experience grief, as they will, your example of taking as much time as you need to work through your grief will encourage them to do the same.” He adds, “With some friends you may have to be direct, saying: ‘Let me tell you how the idea that I should be over it by now sounds to me.’ In fact, you may be doing them a big favor by having a straightforward conversation with them, so they realize how their words affect others.”

You say you feel “betrayed by God so much right now,” and that, too, is normal, and more common than you might think. In his marvelous book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis writes,
Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the longer the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in a time of trouble? . . . Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’
You say that you will never understand any of this, but I respectfully disagree. I think that, like all the rest of us in mourning, you are in the process of coming to an understanding of your spouse’s death and the impact it has had, and will continue to have, on your life. After a death like this, there is no getting back to normal, my dear. Over time, as you gradually sort through all of this and come to terms with it, a "new normal” begins to take shape ~ but the actual process of grief is never really finished, despite anyone else’s attempts to rush you through it.

I invite you to read the following articles, in hopes that their content will speak to you in a helpful way:

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here.

Image by Tern70 from Pixabay 

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