When people ask how long grief last, the standard answer is at least two years. When we say that we do not mean you are going to hurt for the whole two years as much as you hurt the first months. The pain gradually becomes a dull ache. It does not go away but it does lose some of its intensity.
I received an email from a woman whose husband died last year. Her funeral home provided a series of our books called The Continuing Care Series which walks a person through the first year of grief. She said the books had been a great help but now she wanted to know how to get through the second year. How did that year differ? What did she need to know and understand as she faced the coming months.
My wife died eighteen months ago so I am neck deep in the second year myself so I thought maybe I had some ideas about what we experience and why.
THE INVENTORY CONTINUES
My wife had heart surgery several years ago and it was done under very dangerous circumstances. I was not sure she would survive. I had loved her for many years but, that long day, I discovered value to her that I never knew. Even after that experience I still did not know her true value until after she died. We do not know what we have lost until they are gone. It is as though we have to inventory the loss before we can know the real impact. The inventory begins shortly after the death. Every day we think of something else we wanted to do with them or something we wanted to ask them or share with them or talk through with them. It is a gradual process of discovering how much they meant to us.
During the first year the inventory is a source of great pain. It becomes a constant reminder of our loss and it can hit anywhere and at any time. Places where we normally went as a couple, being lost in a the grocery story because she was the one who knew where they hid the ketchup, restaurants where we regularly ate lunch, and now you sit alone while the wait staff feels sorry for you and are overzealous in their care. Coming home at night to an empty house, an empty den where we sat together, an empty bed, even an empty bath as we prepare for another day without her being there fussing with her hair. Everything is part of inventorying the loss.
We slowly get more and more accustomed to the physical reminders. The wait staff begins to treat you more like a regular customer, the house is still lonely but not as intensely so. And we learn where the ketchup is, but the inventory is far from over.
It seems to me that the inventory during the second year is not based on physical reminders as much as during the first year. For me at least, it is deeper and more personal. It is the realization that I will never have a set of ears like hers. One of the reasons I knew I loved her was that if I had a problem it was never over until I told her. Somehow her ears did something for me that no others could do. The more I talk to folks now, the more I realize what a loss that was and is. I miss the quiet presence. How long does it take to build a relationship so deep that just sitting quietly together is somehow healing? Now it seems like everyone is intent on avoiding silence by filling the air with constant jabbering.
The other side of inventorying is that gradually the things that hurt so much to remember become the sweetest of memories. I remember the many long car trips we took every year because of our business. I think of those and can almost feel the joy we shared as we drove through the United States together, most of the time in silence enjoying just being together. I relive those in my mind with great joy. I remember the delightful way she had of teasing me and letting the wind out of my sails, and I laugh out loud.
Then I recognize that the inventory is designed to teach me how to live with her not being here in person, but becoming more and more present, alive and real in my heart. That takes time, but it is time well spent.
Copyright Doug Manning of In-Sight Books, Inc. Doug’s books, CDs and DVDs are available at www.insightbooks.com. Post originally published on Doug’s Blog at The Care Community www.thecarecommunity.com.
Updated: July 20, 2015