Grief: Surviving & Thriving in Year Two

Written by Donna Oldenburg, LCPC, NCC, Bereavement Services Coordinator

We live in a culture that has little tolerance for pain, especially the physical and psychological agony of grief. Grief is often looked at as something to be hurried along and “completed” after the first year. No wonder why those who are grieving worry that something is wrong when their pain continues after the first anniversary of their loss.

The truth is that grief has no predictable timeline, and the grieving process is different for everyone. While most bereaved acknowledge crying less and experiencing more “good” days as their first year of grief ends, they may also experience anxiety about the future as the permanence of their loss sinks in. This is particularly true in the case of spousal/partner loss. Surviving partners are often overwhelmed by what seems like an endless stream of decisions to make. What do I do with all my partner’s stuff?  Do I sell my house or stay put? Should I think about dating again? Dreams and plans the couple once had are upended by the loss, and the surviving partner is left to rewrite the script. Trying to figure out a new direction may be riddled with fear and guilt. If you move forward, it feels as if you are dishonoring your deceased partner, but opting to remain stuck in your grief may be dishonoring yourself.

When it comes to moving forward through grief, consider the old adage, “Slow and steady wins the race.” It may be impossible to imagine what your life will look like in a year or two, but it is possible to take small steps toward reinventing your life after loss. These include:

  1. Jettison the Stuff. Tired of your partner’s collection of baseball cards, or ceramic frogs cluttering your home, but feel guilty about tossing them out? Consider donating or finding a collector to take them off your hand. Free up space to create a living environment that better reflects you.
  2. Free Write. Find a quiet spot and take 10-15 minutes to let your imagination run wild. Include a list of things you’d like to try, things that bring you joy, or things you always imagined you would do when you were younger. Don’t worry if some items feel impossible, write them down anyway. Put the list away for a day or so, and then review it. Do any common themes emerge? If so, that’s the perfect place to explore next steps.
  3. The second year is the year of experimentation. Take a look at your free write list and try out some items on your list. If they don’t feel joyful or fulfilling, move on to others. The goal this year is to see what fits, or doesn’t fit, with your new life.
  4. Set Boundaries. Well-meaning friends and family will have opinions on how you should be reinventing your life. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are the author of this next chapter. Do what feels authentic to you.

The second year of grief presents unique challenges, but it can also be a time of tremendous growth and exploration. More information on the second year of grief, can be found by listening to our Staff Chat podcast below. For those who need additional bereavement support, Cancer Wellness Center also offers individual counseling, as well as Journeys, a bereavement group for those who are between one- and three-years post loss.