There is a pretty well-accepted theory on grieving that the first year is the hardest. The loss is so new, the first months can be spent in a blur of shock and disbelief.
This can be especially true for a sudden loss, but can surprise people when they are in “shock” even after a loved one has died following a long and drawn out illness.
I’ve said it many times: nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can prepare us for the finality of death.
Navigating that first year, through anniversaries, birthdays and holidays can feel endless. But the assumption for most is that as long as they can get through that, it should be smoother sailing in the days ahead.
And then year 2 happens.
The second Mother’s Day without a mom. The second wedding anniversary without a spouse. A second Christmas without a child. And the griever may find themselves thinking, “this isn’t any easier”.
Some people have told me that the second year was actually more of a challenge. Perhaps because of expectation – expecting to feel better and then feeling even more disappointed and sad when they didn’t. Or maybe it’s because the more time passes, the longer we’ve had to live without that person. The longer it’s been since we’ve seen them or heard their voice.
This is a terrifying thought for the newly bereaved, to think that it’s not going to be a steady climb upwards in grieving and healing, and I don’t share this to scare those who are in their very early days.
But expectations are a big part of our mindset, even when we’re not in the stages of grief. How much more do we enjoy the movie or party that we thought was going to be terrible? How disappointed are we when a long planned vacation-of-a-lifetime turns out to be not all what we would have hoped?
If ever there was a time when we need to be setting realistic expectations for ourselves, then certainly our time of grieving is one of them.
Throw away the timelines.
Don’t compare yourself with those whom you know have had a loss. The coworker who was back to work smiling only a few days after her Dad died? She was crying every day on the way to and from work. The family member who thinks that 18 months after your husband died you should be dating again? She has no idea what this loss feels like, what your love felt like, or what is right for you.
Be patient with yourself. Be patient with those who don’t understand. Don’t expect today to be hard and tomorrow to be easy. Honor wherever you are right in this moment and know that even if it feels uncomfortable, unsettling and uneasy, that it’s probably exactly where you need to be.
Stay open to the idea of hope and optimism – but don’t set a timeline for its arrival.
For many, the challenge in grief is trying to figure out what’s next and how to move forward. Our “See and Share Stories” is a place to find ongoing support and encouragement for this struggle and for any other concerns related to grieving as well.