At first I heard that the first year is the hardest. My therapist told me that getting through the “year of firsts” would be the hardest part. The first set of holidays, first wedding anniversary without him, first everything would be the hardest. That made sense. And then I met other widows. In support group and talking online. And they said year two would be harder. And that didn’t make sense. I didn’t understand how anything could be harder than when I first lost Chris.
I saw getting through year one as an accomplishment. And it was. I don’t want to take away from the fact that it was. I made it through that year of firsts. I existed. I’ve said before my only goals for that year were to not get fired, not get arrested, and shower on a somewhat regular basis. I somehow made it through with some happy memories to boot which in my eyes was a huge win. I had done it. Surely from there things would get so much easier.
I didn’t see how it could get harder than the hardest year of my life. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the pain being worse than the deepest pain I had ever felt or could ever imagine feeling. But the other widows were right. Year two was harder. I’m approaching my husband’s two year anniversary next month, and can look back and compare.
The first year I numbly existed through pain. Looking back I was still in shock. I was still numb to so much of it. I didn’t even see memories clearly in my brain yet. The images of his funeral, the images of his brother approaching me as I sat on the front stairs of my house about to tell him that his big brother was dead, the images of me shaking the love of my life and screaming at him to wake up…. it took until after a year to even see those memories through my own eyes. When I thought about them during year one it was like I was a third party watching a movie. I saw myself in the memories, but I wasn’t myself in them.
But the first year I also just existed. That was my only goal. I’ve used the analogy before that losing a loved one is like losing a limb. A leg. Not that I can begin to know the pain and perseverance it takes when you lose an actual limb – but the analogy helps me. To remind me that similarly, losing a loved one is not something you will ever get over. You don’t wake up one day and forget your leg is gone. It is a loss that you will never recover from, but you can learn to function without it. You can be happy again and learn to dance again and run again somehow. But it will never be the same. But first, you just have to physically heal. You can’t move. You just have to lie there and let your body heal. And that’s all I did year one. Went through the motions. Survived it.
Year two is about learning how to walk again. Those gut wrenchingly painful first steps back into the land of life. Numbly existing without him was so hard. But feeling every painful part of trying to LIVE without him, well that’s even harder.
When you first kiss someone else…. its harder. When you first fall asleep next to someone else, it’s harder. When you finally cancel the gym membership you’ve been paying for in his name for almost two years, because it was something that was his, it’s harder. When you first develop feelings for someone other than your husband, it’s harder. When you meet someone that you’d actually consider dating for the first time, it’s harder. When you find out you can’t have kids easily, and he’s not there to hold your hand, it’s harder. When you go through your second set of holidays and you see your mom reading a book to a group of kids and you think that if he had lived maybe you’d have one by now, it’s harder. When people stop checking in to ask how you’re holding up, it’s harder. When you lose a best friend because of the way you behaved in the depths of grief, it’s harder. When your almost five year old niece tells you she doesn’t remember him, it is harder. When you stop feeling him around you, and stop hearing his voice in your head every day, it is harder. When you look at apartments and realize you can’t afford any place close to your family on your own, it is harder.
This weekend I cleaned out my car. It took almost 2 years. I moved out of our apartment the week after his services. I was in shock and running on pure adrenaline. It was his car before it was mine. And up until this weekend it was the only place left that had things where he had left them. For some reason keeping it the same, keeping those things where he had placed them, was paramount to me for so long. To the point where my car got so cluttered and messy I literally couldn’t fit another human being in the car with me. Things in my car since I moved out of my apartment because I couldn’t face looking at it. I couldn’t go through it, I couldn’t move it. And then I did. And it was harder than cleaning out my entire apartment. I am not numb anymore. So it was harder.
Emotionally I feel like that terrible twos toddler throwing tantrums because they are frustrated and can’t express themselves and their feelings and disappointments in a clear way. There are days I wish it were acceptable to throw myself on the ground and kick and pound my fists and yell and cry and just throw a fit. Because when the waves of grief hit, it is so frustrating. No matter how many times people remind you that there’s no timeline for grief, there’s still frustration with yourself when you feel like it is still kicking your ass after “all this time”. You start to doubt yourself and your emotions. It is hard to tell if your reaction to a situation is how you truly feel about it, or if it is an exaggerated overreaction based on the fact that you are overly emotional and grief stricken. Sometimes you let a few weeks pass and realize you feel the same way you did in the middle of the meltdown. Sometimes the very next day you regret the behavior and know that you wouldn’t have been so dramatic or demanding or “crazy” if you weren’t also trying to battle the grief monster in your head. It is extremely frustrating to not trust your own emotions. To second guess yourself and always wonder if you overreacted to situations. And when you realize you did, it is really hard to apologize in a way that anyone who hasn’t lived through this could ever understand. Like a toddler. Throwing a tantrum.
I felt a shift after year one. Like I hit a milestone. I am hoping I feel that same shift a month from now, as we mark another anniversary of the day we lost Chris. I don’t know what the next stage looks like, but now I know not to just assume it will be easier than this. It could be harder before it gets easier. I do trust, however, that it will get easier someday. That as I learn to walk again and learn to take each painful step after step back into living without him, I will find my stride again. It will get easier with time. The lesson I learned this year is that we can’t predict each year when exactly that will be. And that is okay. As long as I know I’m working towards a day where it will be easier. The day will never come where I don’t miss him. Or that I will fully be over it. But maybe year 3 is the year the terrible days continue to be fewer and father between.