I’ve been thinking about the second year. I’ve heard from many who have walked before me on this grief road that the second year is often harder than the first. I can understand that. For one thing, the first few months after your loved one dies you are kind of in shock and on auto-pilot. You can’t believe this has really happened. Yes, the pain is acute and constant, and you miss him like crazy, but there is a part of you that is just numb. You see people going about their business and it feels surreal. Nothing feels normal.
Secondly, to be painfully honest, if you have been a caregiver, watching your loved one suffer for several years (especially toward the end), there is an element of relief that it is over. Of course that comes with its associated guilt.
If you’re lucky you have tons of support. Your friends check in with you often; even people you hardly know are sympathetic and concerned. People do things for you—bring you meals, send you cards. And that is as it should be. You need all the support you can get just to make it through that first year of loss. You need help even making decisions.
By the second year, everyone else has long since moved on with their lives. Again, this is as it should be; I am not complaining. But you don’t hear his name mentioned nearly as often. And you hope people don’t forget him…
You’re also left with some of his things that you haven’t been able to bring yourself to sort through, including things that should actually be thrown away, like his supplements and even chemo medication (shh, don’t tell the authorities I still have that stuff—there’s probably a rule about it). Maybe I keep them because his name is on the bottle...
Nora McInerny (podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking”) lost her husband in 2014 to brain cancer (GBM, same as Joe). In her informal survey of people experiencing grief, she found that the two most painful words people heard were “move on”. Please don’t tell your grieving friend to move on. One doesn’t move on from grief, one moves forward with it. Joe will always be in our hearts and in that sense he is always with us. He is with us when we travel, when we eat, when we sleep, when we laugh, when we attend church or a concert. He is even involved in some of my decision-making, as when I ask myself, “what would Joe say?” or “what would Joe do?” He has influenced me and is a part of me.
I’m not sure this second year is harder than the first for me (I only said I understand why that is true for some people). I don’t think I’ve really moved forward yet, but I can imagine that happening in the foreseeable future. And I am fortunate to have a handful of friends who do check in to ask how I’m doing, and who do continue to share their Joe stories with me.
We will always miss Joe, but he is with us as we move forward.