The Widow's Second-Year Slump

One of the worst things anyone said to me when I was a new widow was that she thought the second year was harder than the first.

I almost fainted on the spot. Here I was, plowing along with almost no sleep, feeling as tight as a watch spring, afraid I didn’t have the strength to get through another week alone…and she says things were going to get worse instead of better after the first year? I just knew she had to be kidding!

She wasn’t. A widow I’ll call P. started a message string the other day on my For Widows Only support website, about how unfair it seems that things don’t improve after the first year. “We have made it through anniversaries, birthdays and holidays for twelve months, and we may be getting more used to not having our spouse or partner around. We have learned to do a lot of new things to make up for (his) absence. Probate is finished, if no one has challenged the Will,” she said. “We should feel better after this, but we don’t. Every widow I know told me the second year was worse than the first.”

Another widow, R., replied to her: “Amen, my friend…I thought that after the first year it would be better, but I found year two worse.” K. joined in. “I, too, am going through the Second Year Slump,” she said. “I thought I was so strong and handling things well, just periodically sad and teary.” Now she said she was finding that “Life doesn’t stand still and wait for us. I feel there are new decisions, like where do I go from here, instead of ‘fix this and that and settle the other thing, and make sure you remember this.'”

I agreed. The second year can be worse (in some ways). I’m willing to bet not one of us would wish to go back through the scary Hell of those first few weeks. But what a comeuppance, to be improving and getting stronger, and looking forward to the one-year mark, and we find…what? The Second Year Slump!

I agree we all probably expected that first anniversary to be a celebration of survival, and…the end of grief? It is a relief to know we don’t have to go through all those “firsts” again, but suddenly we realize that “life alone” has just begun. I sank into Depression shortly after the first anniversary. I wondered why I couldn’t just get on with my life.

I finally concluded that the first year was all about “me, me, ME.” Would I make it? Would I get through all the fears and uncertainties? Would I have any friends left? Would I have any money left? The second year arrived with a big thud! “Never mind YOU,” my mind said. “It is time to fully face the loss of Bruce and your life together.” I felt so terribly sad and lonely. It really sank in that he wasn’t coming back. I realize now that I had put him on a shelf for safekeeping that first year, so I could busy myself jumping through hoops and over the hurdles of simple survival. Now it was time to pay the piper.

We widows need to educate our friends and relatives about this second year phenomenon, so they don’t abandon us when we most need them. Widows have to do most grief work alone, it’s true, but our support system needs to stand by…just in case we get in over our heads. Depression itself can be frightening, debilitating, even dangerous. So we need our friends, neighbors, family members, doctor and counselor to know what to watch for as we negotiate these new pitfalls.

At about 14 months, I forgave my friend for warning me that the second year can be worse than the first. I could see I was slipping into depression, and I realized that her comment had probably helped prepare me for this dark hole, I had slowly come to agree with her, with one caveat. I say the second year may be harder…in some ways. We have resolved many of our personal concerns, or at least adjusted to them. Now, we suddenly have room in our lives to deal with the most cutting wound of widowhood…that we really miss our husbands.

I missed his incredible sense of humor, his bear hugs, the comfort of his presence even if he was just watching TV. I wished I had been sweeter to him and overlooked petty differences that didn’t mean diddly. What I really needed was for him to hold me and comfort me now, as I began working through Depression. There had been some sense of success as I moved through the other stages. But, I didn’t want to do this one alone. I needed him more than I ever had, even when he was alive. I felt abandoned, and I knew it wasn’t likely to get better for a long, long time. But, after a few months, the sun peeked in and I knew someday I would be whole again.

Hugs to any of you who are going through “the second year slump!”



Source by Ann Estlund

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