I attended a funeral for a friends mother a while back. After the service several of us gathered at a local sports bar for a late lunch and drinks. There were about 30 people total by the time everyone arrived. We all ordered as we got there and soon realized there was only 1 person waiting tables for the entire place. Like most places they were struggling post covid to get and keep staff. The waitress did the best she could to keep up with orders as we all wandered in a few at a time. Considering they were short staffed and certainly not expecting a group of 30 people mid afternoon on a Wednesday, she maintained fairly well. A few people mumbled about the slow service but we could tell she was exhausted. She looked so tired and warn down but still managed a slight smile for all of us. We knew that restaurant staff were stretched thin and overworked so we assumed that was the cause.
As we were getting our tickets, she asked us “So are you guys celebrating something?”. I told her that we had all come from my friends mothers funeral and motioned to my friend sitting across from me. The slight smile fell from her face and she said “I’m sorry”, which you all know is an automatic response when someone is being polite. She paused a moment then said “My husband died this year”. We of course responded with the usual I’m sorry as well. My friend motioned to me and said “She lost her husband as well a few years ago”. She looked at me with a mix of relief and sadness, a kindred soul perhaps? She said “Then you understand”, I said “yes I do, it’s a bitch”. She said yes, it is and told us that she was from “down south” and relocated with her husband who was military. She shared that she has two young children and has no family living in the area so she is on her own working two jobs and trying to keep her head above water. Then she said to me “Please tell me the second year is easier than the first”. I said “I would love to tell you that, but I can’t promise that will be true”. She and I talked briefly and I gave her my number. I told her when she needed someone to talk to that might understand what she is going through to give me a call.
I wanted to be able to tell her that the second year will be easier but I didn’t want to give her false hope. Perhaps it will be but it really depends on her situation and her support system. Everyone’s journey is different. I had heard that the first year was the worst, and it was, but I think I expected my world would magically change once I turned that corner. Somehow things were going to feel less heavy, that I would have less fog in my head, that moving forward would be less taxing. Was the second year “easier”? The short answer is yes. But it was quite a ways into the second year before I could feel a change in myself. It was simply the passage of time that softened the edges of my grief. I hope the same would be true for this young lady.
There are a few points I guess I am trying to emphasize. The first being if you see or hear of someone struggling please reach out to them! Will it conjure up old feelings, perhaps but I believe those of us who survive our experience reasonably intact owe it to the ones that come after us. We owe them the same empathy we received and we owe them the empathy that we never got. If there is ever a time to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, this is it! That was you at one point, you have been where they are. Remember how much you needed a helping had and give back.
The second point is that we can’t assume that once the first year is over we are a changed person and no longer grieve. Yes, the second year is different, in some good ways and in some ways not so good. It’s difficult to explain. We want to move forward and take control of our lives back but it’s not as simple as that. When I began to look at what my life might look like moving forward, I would only allow myself a few brief glimpses before I would feel that it was too much to contemplate and shut it down. At first I would feel guilt for even considering I could have a life beyond my grief. How could I contemplate a happy life without the man I loved? There was a sense of betrayal that I couldn’t get past, a thought that I was going to lose sight of what we had in the past if I planned a life beyond the present. As time passed, I allowed myself more space to consider my future. I knew I couldn’t stay in that mindset forever, it simply took the passage of time to allow myself to make plans. As the fog in my head slowly lifted I was able to think more clearly, less emotionally, and ask myself the hard questions and begin moving forward. I knew Mike wanted me to be happy, I just had to figure out what happy was going to look like.
If it’s any consolation to you, I’m still not sure what it looks like but I’m working on it! Give yourself time, it will happen when it’s supposed to.