I got involved with the Hot Young Widows Club about a month after Shawn died. It is a place where widows of all backgrounds can share their most raw emotions and daily experiences (and contrary to the name, there is no litmus test to get in!) I found it comforting that other people struggled with similar issues that I faced and I often found myself scrolling through its newsfeed at night.
But there was one thing that made me nervous about what I read there. Sometimes I would see a comment about how the second year after loss can be more difficult than the first year. Eventually, I discovered this article about the second year, written by a young widow.
It was not encouraging.
Because here’s the gist of that article and everything else I’ve read about year two: it can actually be harder than the first year.
I honestly don’t know how it’s possible for a year to be harder than 2018 was for me. I mean, I wouldn’t again have to do that first birthday or wedding anniversary alone. I wouldn’t have to navigate those first awkward conversations with acquaintances and neighbors. I wouldn’t have to deal with the people at the cemetery or the changes in our health insurance.
Moreover, I wasn’t crying on the floor of the shower anymore. I wasn’t breaking down when I was at Starbucks and I could actually have a meal with a friend and talk about something other than Shawn.
So why would the second year be harder?
I’m a month in, and I’ll tell you this. The second year is not harder for me. But it’s not really easier, either.
Yes, the logistics are smoother and the deep grief has eased a bit. People don’t bring me food anymore, but I’ve also figured out how to cook for my family. I’m working full-time and while it’s a lot, I’ve managed to keep a bit of balance in my life. I can even look at an attractive man without flinching.
So it seems like things might be easier. In fact, I woke up the other day and realized I had made it through everything terrible the first year. I had made it.
And then I realized the awful truth: this is just my life now.
The first year, I gave myself an imaginary gold star every time I managed to survive another terrible event or day or emotional state. I did the impossible by living through 2018, and many people told me how amazed they were at how I was braving through it.
But I don’t get a damn gold star for merely continuing to live my life now. What’s new about year two is this: the reality I face is not new.
It is the rest of my life.
“This is my life,” I said out loud to myself the other day as I was getting ready for work.
In moments like that is this, I think: what kind of life am I going to have if it’s not fully defined by Shawn? When he was alive, my life was defined by my relationship with him, and in many ways by his successes. Last year, my life was also defined by Shawn – by my grief, by my writings about him, and by the way that everyone talked to me about how much they loved him.
Of course, Shawn will never disappear from my life. But as I face year two, I am realizing that I will have to figure out what my life is like without Shawn. Of course there are the big questions about whether I’ll keep teaching or decide to start writing (maybe a bit of both?), whether I’ll stay in DC (for now, that’s the plan), and whether I’ll get remarried (seems unlikely, but I’m not ruling it out.) But there are also questions about how I will live my daily life. How do I start to rebuild some of my friendships into more equal partnerships, where we aren’t just always talking about my grief and my life? What will it look like to celebrate Shawn on his birthday this year? What are the new traditions I want to have with my kids around holidays like Father’s Day and Christmas?
But maybe the biggest question going forward is this: how do I define myself as a person separate from Shawn as I move forward? Who am I in this second year and in the year after that?
Maybe that’s why the second year is the worst. It’s not about survival anymore. I was pretty good at that. It’s about figuring out who I am going to be for the rest of my life.
Image Credit: Becky Hale.