When I started reading things about grief after John died, I frequently came across the idea that the second year of grief is more difficult than the first. I scoffed every time I read that. How can the second year be harder? How can any feeling be worse than what I’m feeling right now?
Now, well into year two of this journey, I think I understand what people were talking about. In a million ways, the second year of grief is way easier than the first. The random sobbing fits are much more infrequent. The raw, open wound of loss has healed into more of a scab that splits open from time to time. My life is filled with possibility and I look to the future with hope and excitement. I feel much more like myself again, no longer floating from distraction to distraction, no longer seeking out things to momentarily make me feel human again. I feel my humanness very acutely these days. Maybe that’s what makes the second year so much harder. Year one was a year to survive. Just get through this, I told myself. Power through, go to work, put one foot in front of the other, laugh with your friends, don’t feel sorry for yourself. And I did those things. I fought my way through unimaginable pain, leaning on my friends and family along the way. I made a life-altering decision in the very early stages of grief that landed me where I am now in Costa Rica. I only felt a little sorry for myself. I thought that if I let people in on how broken I really was, I was going to be seen as weak. I wanted people to think I was strong and courageous, that I could handle anything, even the traumatic loss of who was supposed to be my life partner.
Looking back, I know that this was doing an incredible disservice to myself. Losing John was extraordinarily traumatizing, and I didn’t really let people in on that. I didn’t let myself in on that. I just wanted to survive and get on with it already. I didn’t want to be sad and I was afraid that if I admitted how truly terrible all of this was, I was going to be sad forever. Now that I see all of this extremely clearly, now that I’ve survived, I feel all of this in a new way. I realize how much I avoided during year one and how much I need to confront now that I’ve come back to earth a bit. And here I am, living the life I dreamed about living last year, and all I want to do is go home. All I want to do is finally go to therapy, to deal with this bullshit, to actually let myself feel the really deep pain in order to mend it. All I want is to be around people who really know me. Living in Costa Rica is wonderful, but sometimes I feel as though I’m living with a big secret. My emotions and thoughts confuse me and make everyday things just a little more difficult, and I don’t know how to explain that to new friends who I don’t truly know all that well. I don’t want their pity; I want understanding.
Year one of grief was both the worst and best year of my life. I made so many decisions and did so many things that I wouldn’t have if John had not died. I wound up in Costa Rica, where I met some of the best people I will ever know. But now that the realities of year two are setting in, I need to go home. I need to be with people who really know me and let myself actually feel the grief. No more powering through, no more faking it. Pretending everything is okay is far too exhausting. As my dear friend Sarah put it, you can set yourself on fire trying to keep other people warm.