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.