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After the First Year...Then What?

The first year of bereavement brings raw pain, disbelief, the agony of reality and many other deep emotions - emotions many of us have never experienced or at least not to the same depth. Subsequent years are usually not quite as pain-filled as was the first.

Although you are better, often you are not nearly as healed as you would like. It helps to understand this next period and to learn some skills for coping. It is most helpful if you lower your expectations of yourself, work on your grief and hold on to hope.

Remember, grief is different for everyone. It is like fingerprints or snowflakes; no two are alike. Everyone grieves differently, so don't compare yourself to others or place yourself on a timetable.

Some of the following suggestions/observations may help you.

  • Beware of becoming critical of yourself, either consciously of unconsciously, due to unrealistic expectations.
  • A different level of reality may hit you. You no longer deny the death, but now face the reality and its long term implications.
  • If the death was unexpected, some say that the second year is even more difficult.
  • It may be the time to struggle with new life patterns. You may have handled grief with overactivity (workaholic, etc.). If your previous style of grieving has not been helpful, you must be willing to try new approaches such as: find telephone friends; read about guilt; develop coping skills; become determined not to become stuck in your grief.
  • It is vital to find a friend with whom you can talk. This is the one significant factor that prevents people from sliding into deep depression.
  • You should carefully consider the phases of grief. One or more phases may be giving you trouble, such as anger or guilt. If so, recognize the phase and work on it. Don't push it down or ignore it.
  • Other events in your life may also be adding to your grief(trouble with work, family members or friends). Realize this happens to many grieving people and it does complicate your grief.
  • You may or may not cry as often as you did at first, but when you do, realize it is therapeutic. Don't fight the tears.
  • Insufficient sleep plagues many bereaved. It may be helpful to give up all caffeine and alcohol. Physical exercise helps you to relax and makes you sleepy.
  • Check frequently that you have balance in your life, work, recreation (including exercise, hobbies, reading), adequate rest and prayer.
  • Don't be alarmed if depression reenters your life or appears for the first time. Depression is normal and its recurrence is also normal.
  • You often hear "Time will heal." Yes, time does soften the hurt a bit, but mainly it is what you do with time- read, talk, struggle with the phases, get help when you become stuck in a phase, be gentle with yourself, lower your expectations, build pleasant times with family and friends.
  • PRIDE may be one of your greatest stumbling block. You may think that you should be doing much better - you may not want to acknowledge that you need help.
  • Vibes from friends may openly or subconsciously be, "Shape up - you must get over it now. Get on with living," etc. You not only experience the death of a loved one, but you feel abandoned by friends and even family. Find others to talk with who understand.