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 the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.


23 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.

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