What to Expect in Your Second Year of Grief

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Grieving the loss of a loved one into the second year following their death may be even more challenging than the first. One of the reasons suffering can be greater a year later is because we miss our loved ones and the life we once shared. It's not unusual to feel a more profound sense of loss the year after as the reality of their death begins to settle in.

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The way you see the world and the changes in your lifestyle contribute to your overall sense of loss. The first twelve months after a loved one's death generally gets consumed with the tying up of loose ends associated with their death, the fielding of phone calls, and visits from friends and loved ones expressing their condolences.

That first year seems to fly by. What comes after is the realization that your loved one is no longer there when all of the attention drops away.

Can You Still Be Grieving Two Years After a Loss?

There's no timeline for grief or for how long grief typically lasts. Some people will grieve for the rest of their lives, while others will be able to move forward shortly after a loved one's death. Many factors affect how long a person will grieve. Everyone's grief experience is different and can't be compared to another's grief journey.

Although you may have talked to others or read about their experiences in books about grief and loss, you can expect that your path toward healing will be different in many respects. At the same time, you may see similarities in your shared experiences.

Grief doesn't automatically end in six months or a year. This is only the expected timeframe to get through normal and uncomplicated grief. For many people, their grief becomes complicated by past traumas and experiences. Their relationship with the person who died also has a significant effect on their grief.

Try not to gauge your experiences against others. Your journey through grief is your unique experience.

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What Typically Happens in Your Second Year of Grief?

It usually takes about three months for the initial shock to wear off after losing a loved one. After this, the reality of your changed circumstances begins to set in. You may find yourself feeling lonelier and more isolated from your friends and loved ones. The first year of grieving typically goes by very fast because of everything going on around you.

There are so many things that might need to be taken care of concerning the death of your loved one. Sometimes there are legal, financial, and other end-of-life formalities that need to take place. Before you know it, an entire year has gone by without you having a chance to grieve your loss fully.

In the second year of grief, expect that you'll just be learning to adjust to your new life. By then, you may have realized that many of your former friends have fallen off, and you may be struggling with figuring out where to go from here. It's not unusual to hear people give you the advice after the first year that it may be time to “move on” or “get back on track.”

Although well-meaning, this advice can be insensitive and even hurtful to someone struggling with loss. You might find yourself wanting to lash out but at the same time wishing to preserve the friendships that remain. This is one small part of what typically happens during your second year of grieving. The following are some other things to expect and prepare for.

You'll struggle with your new identity

One of the symptoms of grief that usually continues beyond the first year is the struggle to find meaning in your life after loss. This is especially true when you lose a partner, spouse, sibling, or child. You not only lose the person you cherished, but you also lose the label attached to you as a result of being the spouse or parent of the person who died. You'll need to relearn who you are and your new role in life. 

This struggle to find a new identity can continue for many years after your loved one's death. Take your time exploring who you are, your dreams and desires, and molding yourself into the person you want to become.

Your support group has fallen off

By the end of the first year, you may notice that the people you most depended on begin to gradually fall off. You may start to realize you can no longer count on your family and friends to be there for you or support you when you need them.

Most people get on with their lives shortly after a death has occurred that doesn't directly impact them. They assume that you'll be OK or that your other friends and family will be there for you. Some people fail to act out of fear. Reclaiming these relationships may take some effort on your part.

You'll deal with loneliness and depression

Experiencing the death of a loved one can be a very isolating experience, leading to loneliness and depression. These feelings are some of the worst symptoms of grief. Depression often comes up when you're feeling overwhelmed and hopeless after a significant loss.

You may find yourself feeling out of control of your own life and experiencing severe difficulty functioning from day to day. When encountering such severe symptoms of loneliness and depression following the loss of your loved one, it may be time to try grief counseling or therapy.

5 Tips for Getting Through (Or Helping a Friend Get Through) the Second Year of Grief

Getting through the second year of grief may prove challenging at times. The healing process moves forward with you having some understanding of how grief works. Although the experience will be different for everyone, there are some consequences of suffering that you can expect to be everyday shared experiences. The following tips should help you or someone you love get through the second year of grieving.

1. Validate how you’re feeling

Living through a significant loss will cause your emotions to ebb and flow. You can expect a wide range of emotions relating to your loved one's death throughout your grief journey. It's not unusual to feel anger, shame, regret, confusion, and disbelief. These are just a sampling of what you'll feel as you begin to accept your loss.

In time, you may find yourself feeling frustrated and angry over how your life has turned out after your loved one’s death.

Try not to let your expectations of how things should’ve worked out for you get in the way of your experience. This is especially true when dealing with the people you thought would be there for you but weren't.

2. Take your time adjusting to your new role

Just when you're beginning to get the hang of grieving and accepting your loss, everyone around you might already be expecting you to be over your grief and back to your usual self. The second year of grieving may very well be the time when you need others the most.

There's no one to give you step-by-step instructions on how to get through your pain and the experience of losing a loved one. Without knowing the expectations following a loss, it may be challenging for you to maneuver your day-to-day life after the first year.

Your role as it's connected to your loved one who died has now evolved into something different that you'll have to learn to live with in time. You can expect there to be many challenges as you grieve and move forward in life.

3. Get out more to counteract loneliness

Experiencing isolation is a consequence of grieving for many. Whether it's you or someone you love going through the unexpected challenge of withdrawal and isolation after a significant loss, know that it's important to interact with others while you're grieving. Getting together with others doesn't always need to involve sharing your grief experience.

Although talking to others does help heal from grief, not everyone is equipped to handle the challenge of verbalizing their feelings. The more you get out there and practice reintegrating with your friends, your family, and society in general, the less lonely and better you'll begin to feel. 

4. Graveside chats are healing

Visits to the cemetery will help you grieve and accept your loved one's death. Your loved one's gravesite is also a place where you can feel close to them or their spirit. You can talk to them and ask them for advice or tell them about your experiences.

Graveside visits are comforting for many. However, for some people seeing their loved one's grave can be a harrowing experience. The reason for this is because seeing their loved one’s name etched on the grave marker is confirmation that their loved one’s gone forever. 

5. Prepare for holidays and other special days

Birthdays, holidays, and every other special day on the calendar can be incredibly challenging. You may find yourself feeling waves of grief that you thought were no longer there when shopping for someone's birthday gift or preparing for the holidays. Although every day is difficult, special days tend to exacerbate feelings of loss.

Try to prepare for these days in advance so that you're ready when the moment arrives. Remember that the anticipation is almost always worse than the actual day. Have a clear plan of how you’ll handle the anticipation so you avoid any unnecessary stress. 

The Second Year of Grief 

The second year of grief is even harder than the first for many people. Suffering doesn't go away. It just becomes different and more manageable. Someone who’s bereaved starts to function better and begins to look forward to doing some of the familiar things in life.

Learning to live with loss also becomes more challenging in the second year as life begins to fall back into place. Expect that the void they left behind will become even more pronounced. In time, grief will start to ease, and living with loss becomes a normal part of life.

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