Counting Down to the Second Anniversary of Grief

And so begins the countdown to the two-year anniversary of my life mate’s death.

I don’t know why the second anniversary of his death has me so spooked. I can’t imagine there are many surprises left for me when it comes to grief, though everything about grief up to this point has shocked me. I was shocked that I even felt grief — he’d been sick for so long, and I’d been looking forward to an ending for his pain that it never occurred to me that I would feel more than relief at his death. I was shocked by the severity of my grief and its global nature, affecting as it does, body, mind, emotions, equilibrium. I was shocked by the recurring violent upsurges of grief that made it seem as if he’d left the earth that very moment instead of months previously. I was shocked by how long grief takes. And mostly I’ve been shocked and continue to be shocked by how very gone he is.

His goneness still affects me, still bewilders me. We spent most of our time together for thirty-four years, and now he’s . . . gone. He’s not just gone from my life, he’s gone from the earth. If he were still here, maybe living with a new love, I’d miss him, and probably would be furious at him for what he put me through, but I could understand that. What I can’t understand is his total goneness. There is a void where he once was, a blankness that my mind cannot comprehend.

Still, this noncomprehension is something I am getting used to. The rough edges of the void are smoothing out, and I don’t always bang my mental shins on that enormous mindblock, though I do occasionally get a freefalling-elevator feeling when the thought hits me . . . again . . . that he is dead.

The countdown to the first anniversary of his death was very painful. It was as if I were reliving the last weeks of his life, feeling everything that I couldn’t let myself feel when I lived through it. This countdown to the second anniversary is mild compared to that, so why am I dreading the anniversary itself? I don’t know, unless I’m afraid grief still has more surprises. Or maybe I’m afraid that it holds no more surprises, and for the rest of my life I will be moving further and further away from our shared life into . . . what? I still don’t know.

For thirty-four years I was constantly aware of his presence. Even if we weren’t in the same room, I was aware of his nearness. For the past twenty-three months, I have been constantly aware of his absence. Even when I don’t consciously remember that he’s dead, there is that subliminal feeling of blank.

This blog might make you think that I have done nothing for the past twenty-three months but sit around and feel sorry for myself, and that is far from the truth. From the beginning, despite the overwhelming agony of my grief, I have taken life into my hands and run with it. I relocated a thousand miles from where we lived to help care for my 95-year-old father. I’ve traveled to new cities, made excursions to museums, fairs, expositions. I’ve walked thousands of miles, lifted weights, eaten in dozens of restaurants, sampled new foods. I’ve written hundreds of blog posts, participated in several different writing projects, read hundreds of books, made new friends.

Yet, here I am, counting down the days to the second anniversary of his death, and I still don’t know where I am going, or if I am even going anywhere. Still don’t know how to live with his ever-present absence in my life.

People keep telling me I need to focus on others, that doing volunteer work and such is how one gets through this, but I’m wondering if perhaps I need to focus on myself. He may be absent, but I am still here.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

37 Responses to “Counting Down to the Second Anniversary of Grief”

  1. Mary Friedel-Hunt Says:

    Oh, Pat, I so so understand all of this. So much of what you say is true for me as I too approach this second anniversary, a day we share and always will. For me, it feels like another step away from my love….further and further into the past he recedes and yet he is forever, always, every moment in my heart and on my mind no matter what I do or where I go. His love and influence always there like a light on my path. Like you I have done a lot in these two years (including finally finishing reading your ms through many will help many)…but here I am confused about the future, lost in a labyrinth of pain and sadness, loneliness and sometimes despair, directionless for sure even as I choose some new ventures in my life. Somehow we shall find a path to where, I have no clue. In time…each our own time….as long as we need. You do not walk alone. There are lots of us out here walking by your side. Mary

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      This blog and the people I have met because of it have helped me get through the long, sorrowful days since his death. Even when I have felt foolish for still missing him (since our upbeat-at-all-costs culture seems to demand that we hide our sadness lest we infect others with our negativity) I have kept writing the truth of what I feel. From the beginning, I was determined to follow grief where it leads. I thought it was important to let myself feel the sorrow rather than trying to override it somehow, but now I’m wondering if it’s time to try to forget it? Though how does one forget one’s best friend, life mate, soul mate, business partner?

      I hope my words end up helping others through their grief. Maybe some good will have come from my grief.

  2. Eleanor Anders Says:

    I think the fear of the year two is another year to add to your sorrow. I can understand that, and I do think you need to concentrate on you. Like you said, you couldn’t feel your emotions while things were happening, but now those emotions burst through.

  3. Joy Collins Says:

    I think the second anniversary is almost harder than the first. It makes John’s death more real and I also think it makes our grief harder for others to understand. Maybe I’m wrong but the feeling I get is that since all the “firsts” are over and so much time has passed [in their minds] we should be done with this grief thing. And for me some days it feels as if it is just beginning. It is only now, that the rawness is wearing off somewhat, that the reality it really sinking in. The gone-ness is becoming a part of my life, this new life that I am still not used to, that I don’t want to ever be used to. My heart is still waiting for John to come home and say something funny and we can go back to the way things were. I am so afraid if I ever truly understand what his death means in this world that I will fall into a million pieces.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Joy, you’re so right — people think we should have passed our sorrow now that all the traumatic firsts are gone, (odd how most of those people judging us still have their mates, isn’t it?) yet now we have to settle into the truth of our mates’ goneness. I’m losing the feeling that he will call and tell me I can come home, and the bleakness I’m left with is hard to deal with. A dozen times a day I think of things to tell him, or see things he would enjoy, and I’m reminded all over again that he’s gone. Beyond that, I miss having someone to share all the little nothings of the day, miss knowing I am important to someone on a personal level.

  4. Mary Friedel-Hunt Says:

    Pat, you will never forget and you will “forget it (i.e. grief)” when you are ready. I am far from ready….and I know grief of this loss is mine forever.
    Joy, I so understand…I could have written those very words.

  5. Mary Friedel-Hunt Says:

    Ditto…to all of this. Mary

  6. Charlotte M Liebel, Author Says:

    People who haven’t experienced your pain and made your energetic attempts to travel and keep busy cannot be relied upon to advise you about your focus, albeit their hearts are in the right place. Therapists advise a person to do exactly what you have been doing. Writing and trying to make sense of your loss will help more than ignoring how lost you must feel. The bravest thing you’ve had to do was live. As there are degrees of love then, too, sadness in grief is experienced differently by the masses. So, too, there is a difference in going through an experience and getting through it. You’re taking the steps you need to keep moving toward a goal of balance. Most of daily living is unpredictable. All God’s advice, when we make it through a dark period, is to remind us to love ourselves. That agrees with thoughts you expressed and it sounds healthy. You do need to focus on yourself for your sanity and well-being. My dad lived to be 100 and I want to ask him a question, at times. My mother lived to 93, and I spend time in prayers sharing my day or something funny with her. Your husband wouldn’t think less of you if you spoke to his memory of him about a happy moment you had today. ‘He may be absent’ but you are still here and living one more fulfilling day at a time, I for one, wholeheartedly believe you’re helping others get through their sadness. As you share your feelings, your good days, and questionable ones, too, someone reading your heartfelt words will be comforted. Your heart is broken and it will take a while to mend. Bsut, please know, that you are important to some of the people you share your feelings with and we do care about you, more than you know.

  7. Holly Bonville Says:

    I just passed my second anniversary. The whole week before was difficult. The actual day, not too bad. But I am still trying to adjust to the thought that I have started my third year without him. It just doesn’t seem possible. Feels like it was just yesterday.
    I’m still trying to figure out what I am going to do with my life. At some point I will have to take some action. But I can’t do anything until the house sells, then I will have to decide.
    Thinking of you.

  8. Smoky Zeidel Says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, for your grief. I don’t think we ever get over losing a loved one, especially a life mate, who becomes such a part of us. You being able to write so beautifully about it, though, must be cathartic, and I know it helps others who are going through the same thing feel like they are not alone. This is just beautiful, Pat.

  9. Trish Says:

    I lost my only child, daughter of 20 years, almost 9 months ago. I too am blogging about it. I found this blog because I was searching about the second year of grief. I have heard it can be harder and I just can’t fathom it being harder than these past 9 months have been. If its true, I feel like throwing in the towel now. This grief has been overwhelming.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Trish, I am so sorry about your daughter. Such a loss is the hardest thing a mother ever has to deal with. As for the second year — it’s worse because it’s better. What I mean is that the physical pain and emotional shock do diminish, but without that fog to protect you, you realize deeper than you ever did before that you will spend the rest of your life without her. There will be a couple of times that it will feel as it did in the beginning (most notably around the 18th month), but there will be times when you will feel more like yourself, and you will know you can survive. You will never not miss her, but the pain will lessen. Supposedly it takes three to five years to find joy or at least meaning in life again, so be kind to yourself.

      • Susan McAllister Says:

        I am 18 months into grieving the loss of my 24 year old son, Wynn, who lost his life in a tragic car accident on Dec. 27, 2010. I wish I could tell you that the grief gets easier, but I would be lying if I did. I think time only makes the reality of their being gone even more difficult. I know for a long time I could just imagine that he would walk back through the door and give me a big bear hug. As time passes, you have to come to terms with the harsh truth that they are gone and will never return. I also was in the middle of a very bitter adulterous divorce when my son died so I have been grieving his loss, coupled with losing my husband of 34 years and the family as a unit. I ask myself the question often, how do I start a new life again at age 56 with everything I have ever known, gone, gone in the blink of an eye. Only God knows what is in store and I keep reminding myself daily that he can give us a life we could never dream of. I know how hard that is to actually do each day, but it has kept me sane for these 18 months. God did not take my son to destroy me and he will restore my life. That much I know and believe with all my heart. Not to downplay or say that all grief is not painful, but from my perspective, nothing compares to the grief felt by a Mother for her child. Nothing. It has been and still is like a piece of me is missing. Just gone and I will never get it back. I did hear a father on the Today show talking about his daughter being killed in the earthquake in Haiti. She was on a mission trip and had the day before her death sent her father an email saying she wanted to one day come back and build an orphanage in Haiti. That email and her wish has become his life. He said he is living her life for her because she is no longer here in the flesh. He is building that orphange for her. Maybe we can’t build an orphanage but we all can somehow their lives for them in what we choose to do each day, in how we help others, in how we take their unfilled dreams and make them a reality. After hearing that precious father, I am more determined than ever to live out Wynn’s dream of teaching culinary skills to underpriviledged students. He was a chef and always said that if learned culinary skills you could get a job and you could move up in a restaurant. I think we all in our grieving need to channel as much of the grief towards something positive in the name of our loved one. Maybe that is the answer to the why? of our loss. My prayers are with you all.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Susan, I am so sorry about your son. I understand what you say about the loss of a child. My mother died almost exactly a year after my brother did — the shock of his death was too much, I think.

          I envy you your belief, for it’s a good one, that you will have a life you could never dream of. You deserve it — you lost so much so fast. I think you’re right about channeling the grief towards something positive. That seems to be the only way to make sense of grievous losses. Wishing you all the best.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            The problem with grief is that even if you have times of relative peace, grief doesn’t stay gone. Grief always comes back at particular times, such as anniversaries, birthdays, holidays. I have a friend who is still battling grief and anger over the death of her son twenty years ago. Grievous losses such as a child or a soul mate are particularly hard because you lose part of your self. Such grief is not just emotional, it is physical. Your body remembers even when you don’t, which is why you have these inexplicable upsurges of grief. The day itself is generally easier than the times leading up to it. The weeks leading up to my first anniversary about killed me, but the day itself was rather peaceul.

            Sometimes people won’t talk about someone who is gone for fear of making the bereft sadder, but what they don’t realize is that not hearing the name makes us even sadder, so keep mentioning your son. Keep his name in conversation.

            Grief is isolating enough, so try not to be too alone. Is there a grief support group in your area where you can talk with others who have lost a child? If not that, finding a church would help. I understand about not having the energy, but whether we will it or not, we do go on.

            I know you didn’t ask for advice, so feel free to ignore anything I have said. If you need someone to talk to, you can always stop by here.

            Wishing you peace, Linda.

  10. Lorraine Says:

    i am 13 months out from losing my sig.other to cancer.we were both in long term unhealthy marriages before,i have two grown children,he never had any.We were together 13 years,our birthdays were on the same day,our exes birthdays were on the same day also.Albert and I were like mirror images in thoughts,feelings,emotions.He had a rare form of liver cancer,he had been a Marine in the Vietnam war,maybe Agent Orange? i work full time,take karate,run a self help group,see a Hospice counselor every two weeks.My mind never went beyond the first year,and noe I have started the second.Sometimes it hurts so bad. This big empty hole inside,the other part of me is gone.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      That’s the problem with grief. We are so focused on getthing through that first year, that the second year comes as a total shock when we realize they are still gone and will be gone for the rest of our lives. What makes it worse is that we have this huge upsurge of pain and grief right when everyone else thinks we should be over it.

      I am so sorry for what you’re going through. I have no words of comfort, just that eventually, the pain does get better, though the sorrow is always there. (At least for me.) I am here if you ever need to talk.

      Wishing you peace.

  11. Lorraine Says:

    pat,I am reading the your grief book which chronicles the first months,It is by far the best thing grief wise I have read yet.It says what I think.The other day I was out in the garden working clearing up winter debris,but after about a half hour this sadness came over me.I had no partner to share this task with or comment on.I became so sad,I put my stuff away and went in the house.Things like that.which I know you understand.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Lorraine, yes, I do understand. There are things I still cannot do, foods I still cannot eat, movies I still cannot watch, songs I still cannot listen to. At times seeing couples still makes me feel sad. I don’t know how any of us ever manage to find any peace, but eventually we do.

      I’m glad you’re reading my grief book. It’s good for us to know that our most private and painful thoughts are typical of grief. Too often we feel as if we are going crazy (especially when others tell us to move on), but it’s all part of the process.

      Wishing you a bit of peace today.

  12. STYLE CRONE » Blog Archive » Healing With Art And Style Says:

    […] I’m looking for an answer, through the miracle of google, I found Pat Betram’s blog HERE, and a blanket of comforting relief changed the tone of the week and offered me self acceptance. […]

  13. kimspiess Says:

    I too am approaching the two year mark and I’m so grateful to you for having shared your thoughts here on this page. I think that’s it–the idea that cuts so deeply into the soul– that we are moving further and further from our lives with them.

    Thank you

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Always moving further from our lives with them. And it’s for the rest of our lives. Both those thoughts still cut deeply.

      Wishing you peace on your second anniversary.

  14. linda Says:

    we didn’t need anybody but ourselves. didn’t cultivate friendships. just to be with each other was all we needed. we met 16 years before we became as one. there is no one else or could be,36 years wasn’t enough time.we smiled each time we saw each other. I don’t want her out of mind. all I want is to have her back.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I am so very sorry. It’s so hard to lose someone who is a part of you. I don’t think we ever get over it – we just get by the best we can. I try to tell myself that at least I had him in my life for as long as I did, but it doesn’t really help the yearning to have him back.

  15. Barbara O'Connor Says:

    I just found this and it so clearly describes what I am going through as I count down to the second anniversary of my husband’s death. Thank you for putting into words all my thoughts and feelings.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with grief, but glad you were able to relate to this post. No one talks about the second year or third years. As a society, we’re geared for the first year, as if everthing is supposed to be miraculously better once we reach that anniversary, and it simply isn’t better. They are still gone, which sometimes makes subsequent years even harder.

      Wishing you peace during the coming year.

  16. Kelly Says:

    Such a touching post, I am so so sorry for your loss but completely agree and agree with all the other comments. I am hurtling towards my husbands second anniversary and I am completely devastated, terrified and paralysed by it all! I thought once I had gone through all the firsts grief would ease, become more tolerable and less intrusive. How wrong could I have been. This has been the hardest yet as I move further and further away from the last day that I saw my husband, held his hand and kissed him. Although it has been almost 21months since that day I feel his absence so much more keenly!! I too have done amaZing things over these months had amazing experiences but life is tainted with grief and tinged in sadness, I am not the person I was 3 years ago, not even the person I was 1 year ago but really I have no idea who I am at all – just drifting through life doing what I have been told to do just to keep moving forward and ‘get over’ it all!! But I am beyond sad a lost soul with a shattered heart

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I am so sorry. I know it doesn’t help, but what you are feeling is typical of the second year and into the third. It’s almost impossible to fathom the foreverness of their being gone. Even now, after five years, I have times of feeling lost, times of pain and tears, and I still don’t know who I am or how to live, but I am also used to it. I am finally able to be happy despite all this, and you will be too. I promise you. It just takes so much longer than we can imagine, probably because we have to change and become the person who can handle it. I just wish none of us had to deal with this. Wishing you peace during this terrible time.

  17. Christine Says:

    I’m a week away from second anniversary of my husbands death- I’m truly grateful to have read all the above – knowing I’m not alone in my pain has helped me so much- Thank you all for sharing. Chris

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      No, you’re not alone in what you feel. There are a lot of us going through various cycles of grief. It took longer than I ever expected, but the pain has diminished, and it will for you to. But they will still be gone and that will always be hard to reconcile. Wishing you peace as you continue this terribly sad and lonely journey.

  18. Eileen Tuttle Says:

    In two days it will be two years since my husband of 24 years died after a painful illness. No one close to me has any idea what I have gone through, so it was comforting to read your blog and realize how many others have had to deal with this. I too sometimes have to stop and remind myself that he is truly dead. I am still on our farm and living in the house we built, so I see him in just about everything around me, but there are times now that it feels like he never even existed and I can’t understand that. Thank you for sharing your thoughts – it will help me get through the next few days.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I am so sorry you are having to deal with all of this. Sorry about your husband’s illness and his death. One of the mystifying things about grief is how we can forget him at times and still feel so bad he’s gone. How we want grief to be over with, but once grief is gone with it goes the last link with our loved ones. Most mystifying of all is how we survive, especially when no one understands what we are going through.

      I will be thinking of you and wishing you peace on your anniversary.

  19. Karen Says:

    Hi Pat
    I’m coming up to the second anniversary of my husband of 30 yrs passing… this time last year I was experiencing so many first and was kinder to myself and emotionally prepared but this time there are just random sad days and reality hits that he is gone…l have done so many new things and been brave in moving forward knowing God has a plan.
    Thank you for your blog it helped me realise what I’m going through is normal.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Grief in the second year and even in the third seems such an affront. Like you, most of us have done new things and been brave in facing our new life, but those grief upsurges come when they will. It’s amazing to me that any of us find any sort of happiness, no matter how long it takes, but eventually we do. I think scar tissue covers over the pain of their being gone, but sometimes that scar tissue is ripped off, and it’s like we just lost them. Wishing you peace as you near this anniversary. If it’s any help, usually the time leading up to the day is harsh, but the day itself isn’t any worse than normal.

  20. Karen Says:

    Hello —
    I am at the second anniversary of the day my husband died, after 7 years of gradual decline. For more than a week leading up to this anniversary, I’ve had wave after wave of emotional, visual, and body memories washing over me — at times quite unexpectedly. Yesterday (the actual anniversary) I realized that it feels like he has just died — the agony of grief is as acute as it was in those very first days, two years ago — and I believe it’s even more painful than the first year anniversary was. I am honoring the feelings and riding through them, while also not allowing myself to be completely overcome — trying to keep a balance between manageable doses of pain and distracting,enjoyable activities. But for the time being, I am exhausted by this process! Grief is quite an adventure.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Yes, those first anniversaries do feel as if they just died. And yes, grief often does get worse, but the times of peace also get more frequent. It sounds to me as if you’re doing well with your grief by honoring the feelings rather than trying to ignore them — that’s the healthy way. But it’s still exhausting. I hope you are taking care of yourself and trying to get enough rest. Thank you for stopping by and telling me your story. Wishing you peace.

Please leave a comment. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: