Meeting the Challenges of the Third Year of Grief

The challenges we face during the first year after the death of a life mate/soul mate (or any other significant person in our lives who connects us to the world), are too great to enumerate. It’s all we can do to cope with the seemingly endless chores of laying our beloved to rest while dealing with the emotional shock, the physical pain, the psychological affront that are our constant companions. Sometimes the first anniversary of his death is one of peace when we realize that we managed to survive the worst year of our life, but then we wake up to the second year and find a whole other set of challenges to meet.

The five main challenges we face during the second year after the death of a life mate/soul mate are:

1. Trying to understand where he went.
2. Living without him
3. Dealing with continued grief bursts.
4. Finding something to look forward to rather than simply existing.
5. Handling the yearning.

There are other challenges, of course, some unique to each individual, but all the challenges are dealt with the same way: by continuing to feel the pain when it erupts rather than turning away from it to satisfy the concerns of those who don’t understand; by taking care of ourselves even when we don’t see the point; by trying new things.

In other words, we meet the challenges of the second year by living. It sounds simple, but nothing about grief for a life mate/soul mate is simple. By living, we begin to move away from our pain, but we also move away from the person we loved more than any other. For some bereft, this feels like a betrayal of their love — how can you continue to live when life on this earth is denied him? For others, it seems like a betrayal of themselves — how can you become the person you need to be without betraying the person you once were?

The third year of grief seems to be a year of transition with only one new challenge — beginning to rebuild our lives. (We still have upsurges of sadness, still miss our loved one, still yearn for him, but these feelings are not as prominent as they once were.) Most of us no longer feel that continued life is a betrayal of our love because we understand that we had no choice in the matter, either in his death or in our continued life. Nor do we feel we are betraying the person we once were — we are no longer that person, though we have not yet developed into the person we are to become. Most of us are still trying to figure out who that person is and what that person wants and needs.

Many of us third-year bereft are caught in circumstances beyond our control — we are taking care of aged parents, new mothers, grandchildren. Although this transition between our old coupled life and our new life alone seems to be a time of stasis, we are still rebuilding our lives day by day, becoming who we need to be. We are also beginning to look beyond this transitional stage to what will come after, which is a sign of life and hope for the future even if we are not yet feeling hopeful.

By now, some bereft are ready to be in a new relationship, and they too seem to be in a transitional stage — not yet in a relationship but looking for possible partners. In other words, dating. I can’t even begin to go into the challenges such bereft face; it seems an impossible task, to go from where they are to where they want to be.

A few people jump into a relationship too soon, and then have the added grief of an aborted love affair. Some find that while they want emotional intimacy, the would-be partner only wants physical intimacy. Complicating the typical adult dating woes of ex-wives, grown children, incompatible schedules, is the date’s incomprehension of the bereft’s grief. Too often, he doesn’t want to hear about the deceased, which leaves the bereft dangling in an emotional limbo, because how can you have a meaningful relationship with someone who denies that which once gave your life meaning?

Others in this third year of grief are not looking for a new relationship, though they wouldn’t turn love down if it came their way.

Whatever the challenges we bereft have to deal with in this third year of grief, we will meet them as we did all the other challenges we have faced: with courage, perseverance, and strength.


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.

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47 Responses to “Meeting the Challenges of the Third Year of Grief”

  1. Holly Bonville Says:

    Very well said Pat. Thank you.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I thought about you while I wrote this, Holly. Wishing you the best as you meander your way through this year.

      • Holly Bonville Says:

        Thank you. Going to be a lot of changes before my third year is out. The fourth year bringing even more. Hopefully good changes. As for the dating thing, I still can’t imagine anyone else in my life the way Jake was, but I did see something that caught my eye yesterday, so there is still a spark of life in me and it gives me hope.

  2. shadowoperator Says:

    Dear Pat, Though you write a lot about grief and the various dilemmas and goals involved with overcoming grief as a destructive force, I can appreciate that you are facing your grief as a practical aspect of your life, and not hiding from it. Though I have never lost a mate to death, I lost my father when I was 11 1/2, and repressed the emotional fall-out so much that now, 40 or so years later, I have all sorts of emotional triggers which make me shed tears in front of people, a very embarrassing state of affairs; these triggers have nothing obvious to do with my father, yet when I see a parade or hear a national anthem (ANYONE’S national anthem), or any of another stirring or even just beautiful things like some music and art, I tear up. If I had been able to face my grief when I was younger, I think I wouldn’t have these things to deal with now, unconnected though they are on the surface.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s never too late to face your grief. Write a letter to your father. Have a private memorial or go on a pilgrimage, perhaps do something you remember doing with your father. Let yourself cry your heart out in private, even scream out your anger for having grown up without a father. Think of something your father would have done for you, perhaps take you out to dinner on a special occasion, and do it yourself in his honor. Write a story about a child who loses her father, and give the child a better outcome than you got.

      I started writing about grief not only to make sense of my own feelings, but also as a rebellion against a society that reveres happiness at all costs. I’d never heard of the sort of all-consuming grief that I experienced except by people who were considered unstable, but I knew I was completely well-adjusted, so anything I felt had to be normal. There is something dreadfully wrong with a society that expects the bereft to hide their grief after a couple of months simply because it makes people uncomfortable to see outward shows of mourning. Seeing grief makes people realize how ephemeral their lives really are, and they can’t handle it (which leaves the bereft alone with their sorrow.) It also cracks the facade of our relentlessly glass-half-full society. This ban on grief is especially true with children — people don’t like to see their children unhappy, so children have to be “brave” (ie: repress their grief) to keep their parents from worrying.

      Sometimes one needs to be sad, to be angry, to let the emotions out, and our culture doesn’t really have an acceptable way of doing it, so we have to take it for ourselves. I hope you will find a way to honor both your father and your grief over his death.

      • shadowoperator Says:

        Thank you, Pat. I think part of the problem at the time was that I was very shy and backward and wanted to mourn in private, and my mother thought that was unhealthy and tried to force tears out of me to make sure that I was normal, so that I had no real time to lick my wounds where people wouldn’t be watching. I’m not blaming it all on her, of course, but at my barely pre-teen age at the time, it meant that withholding emotion from not only that situation but from every situation I could was soon a way of rebelling against my mother in true teenage fashion. I think she must’ve almost wondered if I was a sociopath or something, the way I restrained my feelings. Now that I’m older, I can let emotion out more easily, but I feel selfish crying about my father after all this time, especially when I think that he and I would not really have gotten along well if he had lived; he was too conservative, I too liberal for him. Thank you for acknowledging my right to mourn him as he was, and get on with my life.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          We all mourn in our own way, and being expected to mourn to suit another person is just as damaging as being expected not to mourn to suit others.

          As for grief — grieving is not selfish. It’s healing. it doesn’t matter whether you and your father would have gotten along. Grief is for all the things we got but are no longer getting and for all the things we never got. It’s also about comiing to terms with the specific death and death in general. It’s not an easy matter at any age.

          • shadowoperator Says:

            Thanks again, Pat, for your insight and support. I think your own experience has taught you more than I’ve learned from mine, though it’s sad that any of us have to learn in such a way.

  3. Marg Says:

    My husband died three years ago tomorrow and I just feel empty and I don’t know what life has to offer me. I am not suicidal at all. Im just lost. I have two wonderful daughters and three grandchildren who love me and I spend time with them and help them out but I still feel empty and lost and wonder what I have to do till my God calls me home. I try to push those feeling away but they are there all the same.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I am so sorry. It’s always tough, but seems to get tougher mostly, I think, because we’re still suffering with emptiness and loss long after everyone else feels as if we have to move on. I don’t think it’s possible to push those feelings aside since they are true and honest feelings. I think what finally helps fill us is falling in love again, not necessarily another person. Some bereft do find love in new relationships, some simply fall in love with life, and me . . . I fell in love with dancing after about four years. It’s the only thing I found that helped me fill the emptiness. Be patient with yourself. It takes four or five years to find renewal after such a grievous loss. And anniversaries always are hard.

      Wishing you peace.

  4. Barbara Says:

    Today is the third anniversary of my mom’s death. I was her caregiver for 15+ years, so in many ways I had to recreate my identity. I had been so focused on her needs that I lost much of myself. The first year after her death was very difficult, the second less so. Now that the third year is past, for some reason I’m feeling like I’ve taken a step backward. Perhaps not – perhaps I’m simply just continuing to create a new life for myself. But I tried to incorporate some old rituals and activities this year that she enjoyed, such as baking Christmas cookies. I think perhaps the fact that these things will never be the same has brought back more grief. I’ll get through it, but it’s hard. You never actually get over losing someone you love, you just keep adapting.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Anniversaries are always difficult. And every step into a new life brings its own grief. You made a good point. It is about continuing to adapt. It’s all we can do. Best of luck in your adaptions as you create a life for yourself.

  5. Larissa Says:

    I found this very helpful im only in the 3rd month of greif. I lost my daughter. It helps me to understand a little better what i will be going through and what others are going through.

  6. leslie burger Says:

    What a welcome to how I feel. Thank you. I’m coming on my 3rd year. My first time to write/SHARE my loss. That’s all I can acknowledge. I wish one day to express this humbling gratitude for those who do. Thank you again words coat my soul.

  7. melody Says:

    Today my husband has been gone 2 years. The second year was difficult just like you say.I don’t know what the third year will bring. We were married 40 years. It is like part of myself is gone and the person who always helped me with my anxiety is gone. A couple of weeks ago a friend was very unkind to me. They made me feel like I should be getting over all this. While I was down and at a weak point they told me all the things about me that irritate them. What I needed was a helping hand and a little bit of kind understanding. I cried every night for a week. Should I let the person know how they hurt me? If I would do this it would only be to let them understand how grief runs deep. Or should I just forgive and use the opportunity to let this build my character. I tend to be intimidated in talking to people and just try to take it.Ii know my husband would have understood and would have encouraged me. So now I feel like I have to fight my battles alone. Does all this make any sense?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I am so sorry. Anniversaries are always tough, though non-anniversary days are tough, too. What people never seem to understand is that while they go about their lives as usual, the bereft have lost their “usual.” Everything is upside down, and the person the bereft needs most to help get them through the pain is the one who is gone. It is just so damn unfair, because yes, we do have to fight our battles alone when we are at our most vulnerable. In my opinion, a friend who is so unkind as to bring you to tears is no friend. I tend to walk away from people who hurt me, but that’s just me. If you want to keep this friend, I think your idea of letting them understand how deep grief runs and how long it takes to find a way through the worst of the pain (three to six years) is a good one. If you’ve read through a few of my grief blogs, you know you’re not alone in your continued grief. Don’t let anyone make you feel worse than you already do. And in my opinion, grief itself is enough of a character builder.

      Wishing you peace as you continue to deal with grief.

  8. Ms J Wheatley Says:

    I lost my mum over a year ago, I have been to hell and back since then, depression and anxiety are now my constant companion. Everyone just disappeared after mums funeral and I am now on my own for the first time in my life, I feel lost and alone, I feel I have served my purpose, I was a carer for mum for 7 yrs, that part of my life gone! in the blink of an eye. Life is sooooooo hard and so brutal and cruel.
    mum was 101yrs old and had a wonderful life, it feels like yesterday that she died. I hate these flashbacks and intrusive thoughts and memories, Its absolutely cut me off at the knees or thats how I feel most days. I drag myself through each day like Im in setting concrete, I either feel numb or excruciating emotional pain theres nothing else. who I was has gone!
    I will never be the same, everything has changed.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Yes, very hard!! I think it’s harder when you were the caregiver, because your life revolves around the loved one, and your identities become entwined. And it’s hard because everyone else goes back to normal, and you are left to start over at a time when you barely have a chance to get out of bed. I know it’s no real help, but gradually over the next couple of years you will get used to the situation, and you might be able to find a renewed interest in life and comfort in knowing she had a good life and that you were there for her. Have you gone to a grief support group? Sometimes that helps. So does screaming when the pain gets too bad.

      I am so sorry for your pain. If it helps, feel free to stop by. Sometimes expressing feelings brings relief.

  9. Virginia Brahmer Says:

    My husband has been gone 2 yrs and 2 months tomorrow. I still miss him so terribly. We were together for 34 years and were planning on a move to Colorado. The plans for the house were drawn and our builder was prepping the lot for the house. There were so many exciting things for which to look forward Then in November, 2015, he received the diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer. Our world came crashing down about us. I remember Ron saying that he was not afraid to die but he didn’t want to leave me. He fought his illness with a stoic attitude, hoping that his treatments would heal him, but three months later he was dead of a massive stroke and I was a total basket case. Now, after 2+ years I find myself wishing I were the one who had died instead. My 2 grown sons tell me that that is a selfish attitude, that I have to snap out of this, and that I have so much to live for. I now have a baby granddaughter whom I babysit one day a week but other than that and walking my dog, my life is useless and I sometimes feel so empty and look forward to my own demise. I have no intention of suicide as I am a devout Catholic, but pray almost every minute that the Lord will end my pain. I just want this to go away. I want to live again- have something that gives me pleasure but right now there is nothing.v

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I am so sorry about your husband. It was thirty-four years for Jeff and me, too, and we had plans for the future. In this one thing, listen to me and not your sons. This is not something you can snap out of, not now, not ever. Grief has become part of you, and there is nothing you can do about it except what you are already doing. In our society, we seem to think that after a year, grief should be done with, but when you have a relationship like you did with your husband, you have so many things to grieve for — not just his death, but the loss of a friend, the loss of companionship, the loss of someone who gave your life meaning, the loss of your hopes and dreams and plans, the loss of that move to Colorado, the loss of the one person who could comfort you (the irony there is too painful to even think about). All of this takes years — a minimum of three to four years all the way up to seven (and very occasionally even longer), but generally, you can expect to feel this way another year or two. It’s not much hope, I know, but sometimes knowing the truth helps. You have to grieve. It is not selfish. You will find a reason to live again — I promise you this — just not today. Or tomorrow. One reason grief takes so long is that we have to become a person who can feel like living again. The person you were with your husband can’t do that — that person will always feel the loss. I wished I were the one to die first too, then I realized that I loved him enough to have shouldered this burden for him. I’m not trying to preach, just to let you know that contrary to what people are telling you, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. If you ever need to “talk” I am here. If you need more corroboration of what I am telling you, read more of my grief blogs. I know you feel terribly alone and as if you are doing something wrong to still feel the way you are feeling, but this is the nature of the beast. Wishing you peace.

    • Karen Says:

      Hi Virginia… I am not quite as far out as you are, it’ll be 2 yrs in July ’18 that I lost my precious husband and I miss him & ache for him every minute of my life. I am so sorry for your loss, not only of your husband, but also for the loss of your new house, and future with him.. I also had 34 years with my husband. I’m sure it is terribly distressing to your 2 sons to see your continued sadness over your husband’s loss, but they have no idea what it feels like to lose your other half. Only those who have lost a beloved spouse can truly know the hurt & emptiness & ongoing heartache it is. We truly became one with our spouses, and after the devastation of losing our almost lifetime love, you can’t just cross a timeline, and say the expiration date of grieving is over. Especially if we’re in our late 50s & 60s. Too late to start another family, and the saying of “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to come” is now as dead to us, as our husbands are. The only way I have gotten this far is with God’s help, and staying active in church & Bible studies, and the help of my circle of Christian ladies. I have absolutely no desire to even date again, I am his for eternity. We had no children, so no help there, and friends & relatives are only there for for a limited time. It’s so easy to tell a widow or widower to snap out of it. We CAN’T…..We wish so hard we could, but WE CAN’T. The best we can do is put on a brave front, and carry on the best we can. Your sons don’t need to pour salt in your wounds, they need to accept your feelings, and respect them. Everybody is different – but some people cannot get over the love of a lifetime, and you shouldn’t be pushed to do so. You will never be the same person you used to be when you were your husband’s wife. How could you be? Your other half was taken from you, you were basically sawn in half in your soul, like the rest of us who truly became one with our spouses, and yet we are expected to carry on. God bless you, my dear friend, even though I don’t know you, I know your pain only too well.

      • Virginia Brahmer Says:

        Hello Pat and Karen,
        Thank you for your kind words and I am sorry for your losses as well. The thought of going through this pain for many more years is almost more than I can bear but I will try to take it one day at a time.
        I have always been an emotional person. My dad used to say that I wore my emotions on my sleeve. Now I understand what he meant.
        Part of my problem, I know, is that I am an introvert by nature and during the last two years I have gone into a deep depression. Things that I used to enjoy doing interest me no longer. I have no energy and just prefer to sleep. I guess that’s because when I am sleeping I am not crying. It does’t help that my friends don’t call much. I have felt rather abandoned by them. I live in a rural area and my neighbors don’t bother with me either. When Ron died they didn’t even bother to come to the house to see how I was. My brother-in-law stopped by at about seven weeks and told me that he thought I needed a psychiatrist. I am all alone in my house and my life has died a thousand deaths.I pray continuously and go to church every week but I feel that God has abandoned me too.
        I have run away from home more than once and made the 6 hour drive to stay with my older son, but I don’t want to be a burden on him and his wife so I stay mostly in my room. I have been babysitting my granddaughter who was born after Ron’s passing. She makes me laugh with her antics. Both she and my little Shiba Inu dog give me a reason to get out of the house since I have to walk the dog. I have decided that I am going to take about 6 weeks during this summer and fly to visit my younger son in Seattle, my brother in Las Vegas, and a dear old roommate from college who lives in Denver. (I live in North Carolina.) Maybe this will get me feeling more independent again.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Grief is astonishingly hard, especially when you’re an introvert and you lost the person who kept you connected to the world. The trip sounds like a fabulous idea! It’s all these things — babysitting, walking your dog, taking trips and visiting people (even when you don’t want to) that will help you find your independence again, and will eventually help you find a renewal in your life. It’s hard not to feel abandoned and to trust that there are better things ahead (better than now, I mean) but you will find your way. I promise.

          • Wynann Says:

            Hi Pat, Karen, and Virginia!!
            I know how you feel I lost my soulmate, husband, best friend and half of myself. I am not the same person I was with Bill, right now I don’t know who I am. I think about my husband every waking moment he is in my head and heart. I was his caregiver for 6 years, he was in diagnosed with multiple myeloma in mid 2010 which has no cure. But they were able to put him in remission and he was doing great and we kept a positive attitude and went on a vacation down south. Then in October 2011 he got really sick and the thought he had something in one of his bile ducts or gall bladder. Before they could do the procedure to check that morning the hospital called and told me I had to get there ASAP because he needed emergency surgery and I had to sign papers. I told them to do whatever had to be done and I was there 20 minutes later. They explained he had pancreatitis which was very dangerous and they didn’t know if he would make it or not. I am the type that while things are happening I am very much in control of situations and I think straight. After about 8 hours they came out and told me they removed 80% of his pancreas which automatically made him a diabetic on 5 needles a day. They put him in a coma so things would be easier on his vital organs. So he was in that for weeks and he finally woke up and they had to do a trach and couldn’t talk and the machine was keeping him alive. They started talking to me about his quality of life and I lost it. I told them I didn’t want to hear about it because he was getting out of ICU no matter how long it took, well it was touch and go for 7 months in there, and he finally got well enough to be sent to a special care private room. He had no recollection of ICU. So he was there for about 2 months or more and had his trach removed and he could finally talk to me after all that time. I was there just about 24 hours a day and sometimes I stayed there over night. He finally got well enough to go to the rehab Center to build up his muscles so he could walk and get his arms built up also. Then he was finished that and went to have his driving test again and he passed it, so it was just about a year and his cancer was still in remission. So I learned everything there was to know about his type of diabetes which was different than a one or two but worse than type 1 so he was on 5 needles a day. Then he ended up with Throat cancer which they removed but he didn’t need any treatments because that got it all. While they were doing his tongue they discovered he had throat cancer so he had 33 radiation treatments and it went into remission and never came back. Then his MM came out of remission so they tried the same cocktail of chemo as before but it didn’t work because by this time the diabetes caused neuropathy so they had to find something else because his nervous system was shot with all he had been through. So then they tried a new drug which seemed to work for some people but it didn’t work for Bill mostly because of his pancreas or lack of and the damage it had done to some of his vital organs. So January of 2016 they gave him 6-12 months and he said he beat all the other things so he was going to beat this. The doctor told him that this was something he could not beat. They used to call him the miracle man because he lived 6 years longer than he should have. There was no medical reason how he could still be alive after everything he had gone through because they said they don’t even know how he got through it except he was doing it for me because he didn’t want to leave me. So that’s when the real caregiver part was full time 24/7. He started going down hill around March and it started going very fast. Then he couldn’t do his needles so I did those and washed him 8n bed and massages his feet and kept cream on him so he would get bed sores. The doctor from palliative care came twice a week to the house and more often if he was worsening. He started forgetting things like how to eat and roaming around 3 to 4 hours in the middle of the night. So I would lay next to him and put my arm around his so if he stirred I would know. Then he started falling and I used to have to move him back into bed and I had surgery on my back and deteriorating discs. So the doctor came by one day and told me it was time to put him in palliative care before I ended up doing more damage to my back and he was o ly given maybe a week at the most. I felt so bad because I didn’t want to put him there I wanted him home with me. So I stayed with him 24/7 in his room and never left the room only long enough for his family to have their final talks. The 2nd last night he perked up a bit and told everyone to get out except for me, everyone just stared at him and he yelled did all of you hear me I want everyone out. This is when and the first time we talked about our good byes. He wanted me to 7nderstsnd how much he loved me but couldn’t express himself deeply enough and was gettinfg really frustrated. Then that’s when he said “when I leave I am leaving you half my heart and I am taking half of yours with me. Then when it is my time our hearts would be put back together again. We had such a wonderful life together and we did everything together and lived eackph others company. They were the second last words to me plus he said I wish everyone would leave so there would be just me and you. Anyway we let everyone in again, so by this time it was time for everyone to go home for the night. So I put on my PJ’s and lay on the bed with him and watch one of our tv shows. Then I hauled out my bed and lowered his down and I would sleep so that I was facing him and so we could hold hands. That morning about two they came to give him his meds so we talked a little bit then I said Sweetie try to get a bit off sleep. Everynight since we were together we would always say “ I love you with my whole heart and soul, forever and ever, Amen. So I just said Bill I love you with all my heart and soul and I thought he was asleep because he was getting closer and closer to the end but he said Firever and ever, Amen!! Those were the last words between us or anyone, he passed away 2 days after. So to me his soul left his body that night and I have that special memory of our last good byes. Still don’t know how to live without him and still don’t know who I am because all my hopes and dreams and my future of growing old together were gone and it would never be. We had no children but have his Grandchildren and his brothers and sisters and my 3 brother here on earth and their families and my four brothers in heaven and their families. So in nine years I lost both my Mom and Dad and two brothers and my husband. Actually in total I lost 4 brothers, one was 29 years ago and one was 64 years ago. Too many losses in too short of time and 4 different types of grief. I am so sorry for all your broken hearts and you will be in my prayers. Would be interesting to see how we are this time next year. Please God we will be feeling a little better because we will never ever get over losing our husbands but somehow one day at a time we will get through each day. I consider myself so blessed to have had that once in a lifetime love and for the time we had together because some people never get a chance to feel or have that love. I loved with all my heart and the fantastic part is that I know he loved me the same way. We might not be together physically but love never dies so now we are together spiritually. I feel his presence around me all the time and sometimes it will feel so real that he is sitting next to me that I have to look and even though I can’t see him I know he is there as he promised he would be always. ❤️😔❤️🙏❤️😇❤️

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            With that sort of medical history, with having to take care of him for so long, it’s no wonder you’re still so lost. The care-giving aspect of your relationship adds another layer of poignancy to your grief, because (as close as I can figure it) not only do we lose a spouse, we lose someone who is dependent on us. I remember often crying because I wasn’t wherever he was, helping take care of him. It took years before I finally convinced myself that he was a man, no longer a child in need. But that’s grief. It creates its own surreal world.

            Also, all those different phases of your life and his health have to be processed. You grieve the man he was when you met, the healthy man, the sick man, every step along the way, and when you add his pain to yours, it gets complicated. So be patient with you and don’t worry how long your grief lasts.

            As for feeling better — you will. It might not be for another year or two or even longer (for such a profound loss, it takes a minimum of three or four years to begin feeling some sort of renewal in life). I think what happens isn’t so much that we get better, but we get different. We become persons who can live with such an unimaginable experience. That takes years. And even afterward, every once in a while, we are snapped back into the previous version of ourselves (the one who died when he did, not the one who was born into the world of grief at the same time.) It’s been eight years for me. I feel like crying whenever I meet someone who is going through this same sort of thing because i know how very hard it is. But I can also tell you it does get better. I promise. I still miss Jeff, and I still want to go home to him, still would give anything to have one more smile or word, but the yearning doesn’t consume every minute. And that breath-stealing pain does diminish greatly. Know that however long it takes, you will always have a place to talk here. Wishing you peace.

          • Wynann Says:

            Thank you so much for what you wrote to me!! At least now I feel I am normal as far a grief goes. So many people even family and friends don’t understand, they look as if to say you must be starting to feel like moving on with your life. I have even lost friends that just stopped calling or when they do they can be very insensitive. I had one person and we were out at lunch and she sad I won’t see so and so for a couple of nights and how much she was going to miss him and I am sitting there thinking to myself I am never seeing my husband ever again until my time comes to reunite with him. I’m like what is she thinking by saying that to me when she knows what I went through and still am going through. It hurt me very much deep down inside and I can’t seem to be able to let it go. Anyway I thank you once again for your words of wisdom and being able to put my pain into words. So the next time someone says something that hurts me I am going to show them this to read and make them realize one of these days it will happen to them so until then I owe no one any explanation for my actions or lack of actions. You have made me feel stronger about dealing with needless drama in my life!!

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            You definitely are normal. It’s the way our society deals with grief that isn’t normal. After all this time, I still don’t understand how people think. Do they think we chose to be widows, and so we don’t care? Do they think that death not only erases our future but also our past? That we somehow deserve this life? They get to be happy because they are still with their husbands, but we don’t get to be sad that we aren’t with ours? Mostly, I think they don’t think. Death of a spouse is too unthinkable, and so they simply dismiss it.

            Even after all these years, I still sometimes feel uncomfortable being around married women. They seem too . . . complacent . . . in their marriages. Too smug. As if it’s the way life is supposed to be — they with their husbands and we with our shattered hearts and lives.

            To me, the miracle of grief is that the pain does diminish, though logically it should be the other way around because every year they are gone is another year we have to live without them.

            Please, do not ever apologize to anyone for the way you feel. They don’t know the immensity of grief and they can’t know — can’t even imagine — until they’ve been there.

            If the people who hurt you are people you want in your life, you have to be the bigger person and forgive them their insensitivity. (Yeah, I know — it’s not fair. They should be the ones who are thinking of you and your pain, but it doesn’t work that way.) Otherwise, let them go. As you have found out, it generally works the opposite — they let you go. They can’t handle the reminder that maybe one day they will be where you are. And if you did things as couples, they don’t like the awkwardness. All this adds to the complexity of grief, and yet people want us to get over it and move on? Cripes. Grief will let go when it’s ready to let go. Until then, know that I will be thinking of you and wishing you well.

  10. Proposal for a Book About Grief | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] Meeting the Challenges of the Third Year of Grief […]

  11. Suzanne Utts Says:

    Hi Pat, I was reading through this blog tonight. I started out looking for what to expect in the 3rd year of grief. I was married to my husband for nearly 48 years when he died of Alzheimers. Everything in his family history pointed to a very long life and he walked 2+ miles a day, so he was very fit. He died 2-1/2 years after diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment. What a shock that he went so quickly. I am blessed to have a little dog who loves me and taking care of that little guy made me get up in the morning when I was sick with bronchitis for over a year. So I got through the 1st and 2nd years and now I’m in the 3rd year. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss Chuck, but he is with Jesus and is ok. I’m also ok, but wondering what to expect in this the 3rd year. I am taking it day by day. I have taken several vacations which were good for me. I’m not interested in remarrying or dating. Right now I feel like I am walking in place. Even just typing this out is helping me a bit. I don’t know what is in store but I believe that God will let me know when it is time to make any changes. Thanks for creating this blog!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m so sorry about your husband. It sounds like you have a healthy attitude about what is happening to you. It’s important to do new things. Even though the enjoyment of the travel and such might not have a lasting effect (in my case, as soon as the the trip was over, I fell right back into the same emptiness). But these things are making a difference. They are taking you further into your life without your husband. You still have perhaps a year or two to go before you find a renewal in life. It takes such a long time (and a year of illness might put the renewal off, because for some reason, illness slows the process of grief). All you can do is to take things one day at a time, try new things, and don’t fight any upsurges of grief. Mostly continue being patient with yourself. You’re still feeling the changes grief brings, (Grief brings so many changes whether we will it or not.) And unfortunately, that walking in place feeling lasts a long time, maybe years. But you will find a way (or rather, the way will find you.) Be sure to take care of yourself, and know that whatever you are feeling, others have also felt.

  12. Karen Knott Says:

    Every year since my husbands passing I’ve found relevant information that comforts me that I’m normal in my grief… thank you

    • karenmarjorie Says:

      Just adding to my post I’m in my third year since my husband died and I’m still surprised at how much I miss him so much. It seems so much more real now that time has passed.

      • Pat Bertram Says:

        The more real it gets, the worse it is. The longer they are gone, the more we miss them. The miracle is that despite both those truths, we do eventually get to where grief isn’t the main concern in our lives anymore. It just takes more than two or three years to get there.

        • ANN Says:

          21 September 2016 my hubby died..thus 3rd anniversary is the time of acceptance ..gone forever….the ache is so deep..if I didn’t have my two furries I would prefer ‘not to be here’ two kids and best friend live inter state.I work full time edging towards retirement..the future is empty..I can’t see anything there for me….I don’t want to leave where I live as my heart lies in this State but I miss my kids and friends sooo much..I am a person with a great sense of humour and make people laugh easily..they don’t see the ‘real me and the miserable, sad, lonely person I am……the person who wishes she had died when my soul mate passed….I goes on….one way or the other..I am such a sad puppy right now………to all of you in the same emotional space..I send you my love and support x

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            I’m sorry about your husband. Sorry you’re facing such an empty future. I can tell you, from personal experience, you’re still in the transitional stages of grief. Still in the time where your loss takes precedence over everything. I can also tell you that although you will always miss him, you will find your way to peace, not just acceptance. Acceptance isn’t as easy as people seem to think it is — in fact, accepting the truth that he’s gone is one of the hardest things we ever have to do, almost as hard as the loss itself. It’s like they’ve died again. But someday, you will find a renewal of your own life. Until then, wishing you peace and sleep-filled nights.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You’re definitely normal. It’s the prevailing idea that we should quickly get over such a horrendous loss that’s abnormal.

  13. Uthayanan Says:

    Dear PAT,

    I hope you are in good shape specially your knees.
    When I am in very bad situation with my griefs I read your comments and reply’s.
    I am not worried about what people think about my grief.
    I don’t mind crying anytime or anywhere simply it is my love no shameful.
    As you have written I am not dealing with my grief. Grief dealt with me.
    I am nearly 2 years 5 months without her voice.
    I felt and feel I would have gone instead of her.
    It is strange the pain in my heart always same no more no less.
    I have enough love and courage to accept the burden. It is better I grief instead of her.
    Some part of mental strength was gone. Even though I am physically, mentally, intellectually functional.
    I try convert her love, souvenirs, to get more stronger than now to honor her and give my homage.
    I never cried for my father, mother, and my sister whom I loved very much.
    I am still crying very much.
    I have no charnel frustration. I like always women friendship because women think different certain cases better than men.
    I am not interested any dating.
    As far as very much struggling with my heart surges I need calme and serenity to continue and survive.
    You did a great work for the people grief.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      My knee is doing much better. Thank you.

      It’s good that you don’t worry about how people see your grief because you still have a long way to go. It takes three to five years before you find a renewed interest in life. It’s probably good that you’re not interested in dating since grief is still dealing with you — you need to focus your attention on yourself. Grief is stressful, and it takes a lot of energy to let the pain work its way through your system.

      In my case, I found strength in the brief moments of calm before grief surged over me once more.

      It’s a hard thing you’re doing, and I know you don’t believe it, but you are doing well.

  14. Antonella Totino Says:

    Thanks, Pat
    I read your first book. Grief: The Great Yearning.
    I can honestly say that reading it ” saved me”.
    Everything I was feeling and would potentially be feeling were jumping out from the pages.
    I devoured that book and I still return to it.
    My 2nd year has been lonley, and a terrible dose of reality, of which I am still trying to accept. Year 3. Have no idea.
    Who am I? Still trying to figure it out. Exhausted and lost.
    Thanks and blessings to you as well.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you for letting me know about reading my book. Yeah, the second year is about that dose of reality. We hold so tightly to the idea that if we can just get through that first year we will be okay, and then we wake up on the 366th day and realize that they are gone . . . forever. It’s really tough. And yes. Exhausted and loss — that’s how we all feel during that second year and third and into the fourth. After that, though, we start feeling a sense of renewal, as if life isn’t so exhausting, and we get a glimmer of a more hopeful future.

      I don’t know how we survive this trauma, but we do.

      Wishing you peace, and blessings to you too.

  15. Steve Says:

    Nice to hear about areas I’ve not yet encountered with grief, my Dad died 2 years ago and I’ve just turned 60. He’s gone and his life is over but mine isn’t and I’m continuing without a purpose beyond the purpose we shared while he was alive, I don’t want a new purpose yet, I’m holding on to the old purpose, does that mean I can’t move on?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Of course it doesn’t mean you can’t move on. “Moving on” is a term used by psychologists and people who don’t understand grief. Losing someone significant in your life changes a person, and that change can take years. In fact, it often takes between three and five years to find a renewal of purpose. A new purpose will come when it’s time.

  16. Hal Says:

    Totally true!
    Going through it!

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