Why Does the Second Year Seem Harder?
Since March 2019, I’ve talked with hundreds of widows (and widowers) and have learned something interesting that I didn’t really expect. The vast majority have told me that the second year after losing their spouse seemed more difficult than the first year. (Okay, statistics tell us that men typically remarry within one year, so maybe not the most reliable testimony!) Why is this true?
In most of the books about grief and being a widow, I’ve read that all those anniversary dates the first time around are pitfalls that we need to be watchful for. We all remember the first time we passed our wedding anniversary date, or the first time we walked through his birthday without his being there. Maybe the hardest one for you was the first anniversary of the day he died. One of the most difficult for me was my first birthday after he died….no card, no flowers, no dinner date….for the first time in 50 years.
While these dates that first year are difficult, we are actually anticipating their arrival and are preparing ourselves emotionally to get through them. We may be making sure children and grandchildren are doing okay at those times. We may be wrapped up in thinking about new traditions, or perhaps the opposite is true. We may be engaged with trying to continue old family traditions.
What often happens is that the second year rolls around and those dates catch us a bit more by surprise. We’ve made it through the first year, the fog is beginning to clear a bit, we may actually be experiencing joy at times again, and then boom! Out of the blue it’s a birthday, or anniversary, or holiday…or just some special memory day that we shared. I didn’t expect it to catch me off-guard like that, but the tears came again, and the waves of loneliness nearly swamped my ship…again.
There’s just something about the second year…and every succeeding year…that makes the whole situation become more permanent. As each cycle of dates passes, I begin to understand that there’s no going back. Life will never ever be what it used to be. Dave will never call or text me again, and I may as well stop listening for the garage door to open! I begin to realize that the new rhythm of my life has taken over and everything will look different from now on.
Last year was my fourth Christmas without Dave, and the whole holiday season was a bit tough. When I sat down to figure it out I realized that my family was transitioning to a new season now that Dave was gone. It would have happened if he was still here, but it felt much sharper without him. I realized that in the five years he’s been gone, the grandkids have finished growing up! They’re getting married, and now they’re coming home to their own folks’ for the holidays. For the first time in 50 years, my home is not the hub of activity for the holidays. Things have changed, and I need to change with them.
At times like this when we’re feeling alone, and maybe a little sad, it’s helpful to do several things. First, taking a step back and looking at the reasons you’re feeling the way you are can help to give you perspective. Some changes are truly not personal, and they may not even be the result of being a widow! They may have happened anyway! The only difference is that you would have managed them together.
Another thing we can do to help get through the second (and subsequent) years is to make plans that include family or friends. Be proactive and pre-emptive with your plans. Serve Thanksgiving dinner at the local mission. Adapt where you need to and make specific plans with your family. Invite friends over for a New Years Eve party.
Most of all, keep your spiritual focus and remember that the Lord says He has a plan for you that is going to give you a future and a hope!! That’s something you can depend upon! When you have one of those hard days, and when it feels as though you’re going backwards, turn your focus to Him. Remember all the ways God has been there to help you through all the things you’ve already faced. Someone once said that grief never really goes away; you just learn to live with it.
Remember that there are wonderful days ahead, and you will get through this dark hour. The joy of the Lord will be your strength and He has promised never to leave or abandon you! Your comments and thoughts are welcome here or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.