Relationships | Well-Being

The Grueling Second Year of Grief – Realizing Secondary Losses

The Second Year of Grief

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Short and Sweet Summary: The secondary losses that show up in the second year of grief are startling and overwhelming. These losses you never saw coming deserve to be acknowledged, too. It’s all part of your grieving process.

Do you ever wonder how the second year of grief could possibly be harder than the first?

It’s like we float through year one in a sea of denial and crash onto the reality shore in year two.

If year one is about survival, year two is about endurance. Perhaps our brains protect us from that initial shock of grief in year one. But, in year two, we have to get back to the land of the living. Pain and all. Our brains can’t protect us from grief forever, so we slide into the reality of the grueling second year of grief.

Many reasons play into why the second year of grief is so much harder than the first. We feel the devastating loss of our partner in our bones, but rarely recognize the secondary losses we also incur.

The pain of these secondary losses come to the forefront in year two because we realize nothing will ever be the same again.

LOSS OF FINANCIAL SECURITY

Worrying about money is probably one of the worst byproducts of your spouse’s death. Even if you have savings, life insurance or your own salary, losing income from your person intensifies an already difficult situation.

In year one, you might tap into investment income, cash in a life insurance policy, or apply for government benefits. Or maybe you don’t have any backup income at all. Either way, you slog through months of intense juggling to figure out how to pay your bills and support yourself or your family.

The reality in the second year of grief is that you must continue this juggling act indefinitely. Losing your financial security hits hard because you’re exposed to all the ways you’re now responsible for keeping yourself and your family afloat.

Helpful Hint

Money management isn’t as scary as it seems when you have a grasp of your household finances. Even though it’s overwhelming now, set aside time every day and go over your income and expenses to understand what money is coming in vs. what money is going out.

Read more here: 7 Critical Money Management Skills Every Widow Should Have.


LOSS OF IDENTITY

The loss of identity is striking in year two because after the grief fog lifts you don’t recognize the person in the mirror anymore. Who are you now that you’re no longer part of a couple? Or no longer a caregiver? Are you still a Mrs. now or just a Ms.?

You question your identity when you fill out office paperwork asking for your marital status. You know you’re a widow, but do you really need to mark it for the entire world to see? Or if there isn’t a widow optionon the paperwork, do you just mark single, instead?

I struggled a lot in the first two years of widowhood figuring out my identity. It feels weird when my kids’ friends call me Mrs. Murray because that’s a title reserved for married women. But, I’m not comfortable with Ms. either. I don’t like to introduce myself as a business owner because I took over my husband’s business. It’s not mine. I started seeing someone a few years after my husband’s death. So, now I’m a girlfriend, but it seems strange to use words like boyfriend and girlfriend at my age.

So who am I? Who are you?

Well, we can be whatever we want. Losing our prior identity now opens us up to be whatever the hell we want to be.

I’m a grown-ass lady and I do what I want
Any Widow

It took me a while, but I’ve accepted the term widow and now use it in my introductions. It makes things so much easier. I hate it when people assume I’m divorced, so I make it clear I’m a widow.

I’m still Mrs. Murray because that’s a whole lot easier, too. I’m a mom and I refer to myself as a solo parent because I’m raising my kids by myself. I’m also a girlfriend. It is what it is.

Read more here: Confessions of a Solo Parent – What Widows Wish People Knew

Helpful Hint

You get to decide what or who you want to be. Now that everything has been stripped down to its core, it’s time to take a self-inventory. Your identity is more than just one thing. You’re not just a “wife” or a “mom.” Maybe you’re a writer or a painter or a taxidermist. Maybe you’ve always wanted to be a singer, an ironman athlete or hospice volunteer. Don’t let your perceived loss of identity restrict you. Create a new one and see where it leads.


LOSS OF SUPPORT SYSTEM

We widows all find out in year two that people go back to their lives and the support from year one dwindles or disappears altogether.

Read more here: The Real Truth About Faltering Friendships That Only Widows Know

For those who have never experienced a significant loss, it’s almost unimaginable how one can continue grieving month after month, year after year. That’s why those people you thought would be there for you vanish. And those you never expected to show up to support you.

The thing is, most people don’t know what to do or say to help you. They’re afraid to remind you of your loss and don’t understand that it’s OK to keep saying your deceased spouse’s name. They think they need to help solve your problems instead of being a sounding board while you figure it out on your own. Some of them feel guilty for enjoying a satisfying marriage while you’re in the throes of grief.

Instead of getting angry about losing support, give your friends and family a little extra mercy. There were so many things I didn’t know about grief before my husband died. I know other people suffer from the same predicaments.

Now that I know better, I do better.

Helpful Hint

I recommend the company of other grievers who can sympathize with you and who understand your current state of mind. Your grief becomes less isolating when you find grief support options with other folks who have gone through similar pain. You learn you’re not alone in your feelings or your situation.

Read more here: Where to Find Grief Support Options for Widows


LOSS OF CONFIDENCE

It was much easier to do things with a cheerleader by your side. Someone who believed in you and made you believe in yourself. Without an advocate helping you or a defender protecting you, your confidence plummets.

In year two, after your support system diminishes, you’re left to do everything on your own. This secondary loss is scary because you’re forced to do things you’re not comfortable or experienced doing. Like handling the bills or calling a plumber or cleaning leaves out of your gutter.

I remember needing to hire someone to replace a sprinkler head in my lawn irrigation system. I told him I had to verify his rates and schedule with my husband because I didn’t want the worker to think I was easily duped or that I lived alone.

My confidence level isn’t completely restored, but after a few years of dealing with contractors and negotiating rates, I’ve gotten better at spotting a phony. It’s important to trust your intuition because even though you may not know how to fix a leaky faucet, you’ll know when the plumber is trying to pull one over on you. It’s your gut that will say, “um…no…I don’t think that sounds right.”

Listen to your gut. And every time you speak up, every time you say, “no that won’t work for me” or “no, that’s not in my budget,” you’ll feel stronger and more self-assured. Your confidence gradually returns when you start exerting more control over your own situation.

Helpful Hint

Use resources like the Nextdoor website/app that’s a private social network for your neighbors and your community. You can ask your neighbors for home repair recommendations and receive information on everything from crime and safety issues to events happening in your area. The more you know, the better you are at making informed decisions and restoring your confidence.


LOSS OF FUTURE DREAMS

You had a plan with your spouse. You were going to raise your kids together or travel together or sit on porch rocking chairs together. Those dreams were crushed when your spouse died, so what now? What does your future hold now?

Fear and guilt tag along on this secondary loss of future dreams because you feel like whatever is in the future will be as painful as what you’re experiencing right now. You can’t see a decent future because your person isn’t in it.

Trying to figure out a new direction for yourself is a scary and guilt-inducing exercise. If you move forward, you feel like you dishonor your dead spouse, but if you stay stuck in survival mode, you dishonor yourself.

Guilt is an unnecessary byproduct of grief. But we accept it because we feel like it’s part of our new reality. The future we imagined is gone, so we put up with the excruciating present.

Read more here: Kick Widow Guilt to the Curb – Here’s How

Helpful Hint

Be gentle with yourself and your expectations. Realize your fear and guilt are searching for explanations. You’re trying to make sense of the senseless. Your future isn’t what you imagined, but what do you want for yourself now? It’s OK if you don’t know. But you get to try new things. You can redefine your dreams. Sometimes you find a new direction by doing something completely unexpected. You have to start somewhere. Maybe you can start by giving yourself permission to dream a new dream.


OTHER SECONDARY LOSSES

The list of secondary losses is as long as you can create. We all have different scenarios and unique experiences with grief.

Some other secondary losses include:

Loss of traditionsLoss of family structureLoss of purpose
Loss of memoriesLoss of faithLoss of motivation
Loss of self-careLoss of physical intimacyLoss of health
Loss of focusLoss of inner happinessLoss of patience

What could you add to this list?


HOW TO COPE WITH SECONDARY LOSSES

Start by giving yourself time, grace and extra space to feel all the feelings associated with every secondary loss. No feelings should be denied. Don’t tell yourself you “shouldn’t feel” one way or another.

This is a lot of loss, people.

It takes time and energy to feel these losses completely. It’s sad and heavy and difficult, but acknowledging each of these losses is the first step in reducing the impact.

All grief wants is to be acknowledged, in any way, in any form.

  • Perhaps you could write down your secondary losses and share them in a letter to grief.
  • Maybe tell your dead spouse about your secondary losses when you visit his gravesite.
  • Assemble a scrapbook with pictures that represent your secondary losses.

Or just cry for your loss. It’s really freaking sad.


WIDOW WRAP UP

The second year of grief is harder than the first because we never saw the secondary losses coming as a result of our spouse’s death.

These secondary losses bring up a whole other set of grief episodes. It’s important to acknowledge all of the secondary losses in your life as part of your grieving process.

Be patient with yourself. You’re doing the best you can under some very difficult circumstances.

Just keep trying.

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33 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this and sharing. It is good to know what I am feeling is what we all go thru at a time like this.

      1. What a comfort to know that the initial months of my second year of grief- filled with uncertainty, fear, and self-doubt – are right on track. I always considered myself a strong woman. And then I hit the second year wall and was reduced to tears and fears.

        1. Hi Jane, Im sure you *are* strong. Widows are strong by nature and circumstance. But being strong has nothing to do with how we grieve because grief doesn’t discriminate. It crushes everyone. Embrace your tears and fears as part of the healing process we ALL go through ❤.

  2. I was so done with myself, I thought I was supposed to be much better the second year, I have had so much crying and hubbys family never even ask how I am.
    We are a blended family. But not anymore I guess.
    I can find no reason to still be here. Hubby’s cat Muffin and I do our best. She is 20 now. Hope she is ok if I go first.
    I just feel useless and alone more than ever. Hope maybe the 3rd year is better?

  3. I was so done with myself, I thought I was supposed to be much better the second year, I have had so much crying and hubbys family never even ask how I am.
    We are a blended family. But not anymore I guess.
    I can find no reason to still be here. Hubby’s cat Muffin and I do our best. She is 20 now. Hope she is ok if I go first.
    I just feel useless and alone more than ever. Hope maybe the 3rd year is better?
    I hope for all of it is even a tad easier Hugs to everyone

    1. Jeanne, acknowledging, accepting and processing grief takes time. There’s no “fix” other than feeling all the messy feelings. It gets easier when you allow ALL the feelings (sadness, anger, loneliness, fear) over your devastating loss to flow freely instead of punishing yourself for feeling them ❤.

  4. 44 years as a blended family , watching children grow to adults, the grandchildren, and lastly great grandchildren. EVERYONE SEEMS TO BE GETTING ALONG WITH US, BUT A YEAR AFTER LOSING HUBBY , I get angry calls telling me everything is my fault, that it is”‘all about me” , are you giving us the house or not.
    All I could say is “I am still living in the house, like most wives do”. I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. Then I had to just tell them if that is how it is, please no more calls,
    I still have no idea what is wrong. 44 years was wonderful ( times very rare as arguing)
    Happy holidays, birthdays, visits,,,,,then he is gone and I am at fault,,,,but of what.? I am so confused…does this happen to anyone else widowed?

    1. Jeanne, I’m sorry to hear about your confusing blended family situation. It’s shocking how some families interconnectedness changes after a death. Many widows share similar stories of familial conflict. You’re not alone. It’s awful that you have to deal with all of that that on top of grieving your husband’s death 💔.

  5. Thanks for easing my mind a bit but sure am tired of thinking of all I cold have done better for hubby,
    I am thinking the “all about me” happened since we didn’t want to be in weddings and births when having to be with his ex time after time.. She was just so easy to read , and we knew it was to show family how we aren’t there for them. and how she was. But they overlook her actions when she was incarcerated for drugs, or for leaving their young kids alone while out drinking and shooting up..

    Oh well, a lot more time before I feel I was as good as he deserved, Such is life I guess.
    I hope I can come here as often as needed , it has really helped.
    Thank you so much; sure has been a tough day, and putting it all out does help.
    Thanks again jeanne

  6. This is one tough day, I really am not sure how to get out of being miserable.
    I start out fairly ok, then evening nears and sadness .
    Why am I here….Why does his family suddenly hate me…. what is my purpose …on and on.
    Not every single day ,but enough that I am trying too hard probably, but how do I do this ? I’m stuck 🙁

    1. Jeanne, you don’t need to be one or the other. Happy OR sad. Joyful OR miserable. Optimistic OR gloomy. You let ALL the feelings come and go knowing that some days, hours or minutes will be better than others. You accept that you don’t have to have everything all figured out. How do you do this? By doing it 😉.

  7. Thank you , Kim. Sometimes feelings get grouped together and I kind of panic. But seems better now.
    Yep, I really was trying to figure everything out at once . Think I will post rhis on my fridge as a treminder

    Thanks again , Jeanne

  8. Thank you for writing down how I feel these days. I lost my husband suddenly two years ago. While I have no idea how me and the children struggled ourselves thru the first year, after it seemed all going a little better. Then the second year hit in like a bull dozer. It is hard to keep myself together, depression is peeking around the corner. The children help me to stay focused but, oh my, how difficult it is to find this new identity. I have never been a big gym fanatic but I realized practicing sports helps. Keeping myself busy also helps but It can’t be an excuse for not having to look in the mirror. Friends are a good shoulder but their lives continue and I don’t want to be crying with them
    all the time and certainly I am not looking for any pity. I know it will all get better, “I managed to get thru the first year so why not also the second, that I imagined so much easier?”, but I didn’t expect it to be this hard. Reading your article helped me to understand it all part of the process. Thank you

  9. Lost my wife of 35 years June 2019. I find myself so much more tired everyday in the 2nd year of grief. I want to retire, but I can not due to having medical insurance.

    Is this all normal?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Tim, I think we can consider most things “normal” when it comes to grief because everyone grieves in different ways. But being tired is most definitely on the list of normal. Grief is hard work and feeling all the feelings is exhausting. Please give yourself some extra grace when it comes to your physical and emotional limits.

  10. Hello,
    Reading the comments on the second year of grieving, I have to acknowledge the same feelings in myself. My heart breaks for all of us. I know the night is the most difficult time, but I must say I did something out of character for me. Ten days after my husban passed away I bought a puppy! He took time and constant care in training him but it was a joy for me even though it was work. I talk with him all the time and take him with me most everywhere. He is my true little buddy. I decided to sleep with him as well. And yes I tell him good night and I love him. Feeling him beside me gives me comfort as I drift off to sleep . All I can say is this little guy helped me through the last two yearsl. A puppy may not be your cup of tea but there are plenty of shelter animals already potty trained. My hope is we will all find comfort and true joy again. It could be just around the corner.

  11. It’s been 14 months since I lost my husband. This week I feel like I’ve been running a coping marathon and now I’ve hit a wall of grief. Things that I could handle a few months ago now feel overwhelming. I definitely feel a loss of support. Some of that is due to the pandemic. Getting up and going to work every day is getting harder to do. I’m grateful to have found your site. It helps to know that I’m not going crazy.

  12. I am just srill waiting to feel like life will get better.
    But enough that his whole entire family has still not spoken to me after telling me off for something, Still not really sure why, And now my sons are telling me off and telling me about h0w bad a mom I was. But they forget their dad took them hundreds of miles away from me when we divorced.
    I had a wonderful husband , but now I am imagining that he just felt sorry for me and stayed.
    See ? I am really getting crazy, SIGH Actually I think they want our house even rthough it is where I live, They did say that, like he is gone so when are they getting the house. Good gtief!

    I feel a little better just telling it here again. He came back from the hospital when he was dying so he could be with me. I really have to realize that all the time. Ok done for now… Just still so mixed up I hope to think I was a loved wife, and stop feeling so sad.

    Bye for now, I’ll be ok eventually

  13. 1 and 1/2 years, and here I sit. I have some fair days but guess I still have a way to go,
    No family talking to me since he died. I know it is because I didn;t go 70 miles to be at the hospital, nut I have horrible panic attacks when I go far, and he knew he would have to just leave the hospital so we could be together before he passed. But family see me as a terrible wife, we never told them about my panic,
    It was a result of a bad, bad life of abuse before I left my family . I wish I was different.
    Wish I could talk to hubby about it again, But we were together 44 years, so I think he got used to it and was happy. It wasn;t for 44 years of panic and lots of years were very loving and happy.
    I just wish I could hear him say he loved me no matter what ,,,just one more time. .
    SO lonely still , sigh..
    Just needed to let it out , and maybe see if I will ever be ok with life again 🙁

  14. I’m so glad I found this blog. I have been so confused as to why I am having more cry days than not. My husband died on August 1, 2019. I felt a shift in my grief shortly after the anniversary of his death. It is hard to explain my hurt. It’s not like the early months after his death but it is somehow just as devastating. Secondary loss of my job after 19 years compounds feelings that I have lost everything. I know I can love again and rebuild a new life but I don’t want to. It’s just hard living a life I don’t even recognize. To have to start over at 47 years old makes me angry. I had happiness and a loving marriage. I’m not giving up but I also feel like I’ve had just enough time.

    1. Hi Kim, I understand all of it. You don’t recognize this life and I get it. It’s not what you wanted! So please give yourself credit for surviving this new, unrecognizable, unwanted life anyway. Don’t discount the progress you make every day by continuing to take one more step forward.

  15. It’s 17 months out for me – in the last 3 weeks I hve experienced the secondary losses . My husband died September 27, 2019, of liver cancer – I agree – this isn’t the life I expected. I had a good marriage , a happy life !! We had future plans , when he retired but the when died with him . I just remember what a friend told me right after he died- live the life he was denied , yes but am 66 & was married for 33 years . I hve to keep going on & hope I can maybe find love again & a hopeful future

  16. Wish I had found this earlier. I’m at 18 months and truly felt like I was going insane. 2nd year is so much worse. And I always felt I should be in a better place not worse. But I would always tell myself everyone grieves differently.

    1. Hi Leigh, grief is so tricky. I think the best anyone can do is take the “I should feel” out and replace it with “I am feeling.” In other words, acknowledge whatever comes up whenever it comes up regardless of time passed ❤.

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