Is Grief Easier For Widows After the First Year? Not Necessarily. Beware of the Unexpected
By Jill S. Cohen, NYC family grief counselor
In my grief counseling practice, I often have new clients coming in to see me a year or more after their loved one has died. Naturally, they thought that if they could make it through the first year, they’d be solid. But, no. Grief in the second year changes, and for some, is harder to navigate alone.
Year One is full of shock, denial, trying to adjust to a “new normal,” living without their loved one, taking care of paperwork tasks and maybe even curtailing social activities. Sadness. Maybe anger. Maybe guilt. Maybe relief, Maybe any emotion that comes along.
Year Two kicks in with some of these thoughts:
Wow, this is the new reality.
My loved one is not coming back.
My friends and family have continued with their life and I am still stuck in mine.
I feel like the third wheel.
It’s hard for me to handle my chores as well as the ones my loved one took care of.
I am green with envy when I see happy couples.
I am not sure how long my finances will last and I don’t have the energy to look for more work.
I think my kids are suffering and I don’t know how to help them.
Should I now make the big changes that I was told to put off in the first year, such as moving, getting a new job, going back to school?
Will my life ever get better than this?
Grief can be grueling and tough in the second year for sure. This is when it’s critical to find a grief counselor expert to help you figure out the answers to these questions and sort out these feelings.
In the first year, grievers may have been protected from some of the realities. They may have gotten a “pass” from things that are hard, like hosting family events, taking the family on vacation, exercising when not in the mood, buying prepared foods or take-out instead of cooking. But the “pass” seems to go away after the first year, and the people around expect us to bounce back, act normal, look good, resume life as usual. If we can’t meet that expectation, we feel even more like we’re failing in our grieving. You get the picture; it all comes spiraling down. And up come the secondary losses.
These “secondary losses” are the ones we didn’t see coming at the beginning. It’s the reality of the consequences of the fact that nothing will ever be the same again.
One secondary loss is financial security. Finances may change. You may have tapped into your savings in year one, but are advised that you can’t continue to do that indefinitely. Yet, you have to keep yourself afloat, and perhaps your family too.
Another secondary loss is that of your identity. After the foggy first year of grief, you may wonder who you are. Previously you may have been part of a couple, or a caregiver or a spouse. Now, who are you? Filling out paperwork forms requires you to respond to that question. Mrs., Ms., Single, widowed, etc. Now is the time in which you can create a new identity for yourself. If you don’t want to appear single or divorced, you can call yourself widowed. If you want to go from Mrs. to Ms., you can do that too. Men can also decide whether to check the single box or the widowed box.
The loss of your support system is also significant in year two. As I mentioned before, everyone goes back to their lives and the support system for a griever gets less and less. If your friends or family have never experienced a loss, they probably cannot understand how you can continue to grieve, as each day, month and year goes on. Cut them a little slack. They probably don’t know what to say or act with respect to your grief. They may even feel guilty for still having the relationship that you no longer have. Feel free to ask for extra support from your friends, as well as a professional grief counselor.
Everyone deserves support and nobody should have to grieve alone.
Sometimes, a secondary loss to a griever is the loss of confidence. Without your partner and confidante, you may wonder if you are doing things right, parenting well enough, handling finances profitable, taking care of the house and car well enough, and any number of things. Ask friends who are skilled in these areas to check it out. You don’t have to live with tunnel vision. You may have to learn to speak up and ask for help or find useful resources.
Loss of your hopes and dreams is a loss that can’t be underestimated. Your plans are dashed. The vision of yourself vacationing with your spouse all over the world won’t be a reality anymore. Raising your kids side by side isn’t happening anymore. Sharing activities with your spouse or just having the comfort of the companionship with him/her is gone. You are now looking at the present, which is life without your loved one in it.
I’ve only touched upon a few of the secondary losses. Think of some of the other secondary losses you may be having:
Loss of daily routine
Energy (grieving is tiring)
I’m big on having coping tools when the need arises. I suggest that you have radical acceptance for yourself and for the fact that your grief will bring about more losses than you could have imagined. Each one needs its own time to work through. Allow yourself to feel them as they come up. It’s sad as can be, but it’s important to acknowledge them. Your grief can’t stay silent. Talk about your feelings of loss with people, write about your losses in a journal, talk to a grief counselor, join a bereavement support group, meditate on these feelings. Do whatever it takes. That may include sharing them with your loved in a letter or at graveside. Cry, and cry again. Crying is not a weakness. It’s a manifestation of grief and loss.
Above all, accept the fact that it is HARD TO BE A WIDOW OR A WIDOWER, and all the losses add up to a big life change. This is the “new normal” for anyone who experiences the death of a spouse or partner, but there are ways to work through it. And you will survive, and hopefully, even thrive.
For more information about grief counseling’s benefits, please click HERE to download a free resource guide about the benefits of grief counseling and feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website at jillgriefcounselor.com.