The first year following my husband's death is a blur. Looking back I think I existed in a bleary-eyed fog. I'm not sure how I managed to stumble through. I remember that I kept telling myself that as long as I could make it through the firsts (first holidays alone, first anniversary of death, etc.) I would be okay.
I was entitled to only three days off from my job. Isn't that utterly crazy? I recognized that this was absurd from the get go. Here I was a grieving mom needing to make funeral and memorial service arrangements on my own and then handle the complexities of the required complicated insurance and pension paperwork. I was luckily able to negotiate a month-long leave of absence. That first month was spent handling all the arrangements including those made long-distance for the funeral. My husband died October 25th. His funeral was November 1st and then the Memorial Service on November 11th. It was good to keep busy. Then I had to deal with the holiday season which had started with Halloween.
I returned to work on December 1st and had the crazy job of dealing with childcare because as a counselor my work hours (20 weekly) were in the evenings and on weekends. I remained committed to toughing it out and trying not to make any major life changes during the first year. I was also overly committed to trying to keep life as it had been for my boys, including their participation in travel baseball, which starts in January. I was the only single parent with two kids in travel - travel baseball is such a time consuming sport you need two parents just to keep up with the scheduled practices and games! It was an extremely stressful spring and summer for me but I was proud that the boys were able to participate in their beloved sport that they had shared with their Dad who had been their coach. But in reality it was very hard on me and took a lot out of me. I was exhausted. The juggling of my work hours and the boys' schedules was grueling because they traveled all over the area and even out-of-state (on separate teams).
As the summer waned, I realized that I had been so busy I hadn't taken much time for myself to grieve. Everything had been focused on the kids and trying to keep their lives as close to what had been as possible. I started to consider quitting my job and taking six to nine months off to organize my life, the finances, get some grief therapy and have an opportunity to just chill. Caring for a dying spouse over three years had been very trying. I took some time off from work during October as the year anniversary of my husband's death approached. His birthday and our wedding anniversary were in the same week.
I had been gearing up for this time all year. I thought that once that year anniversary of my husband's death had passed, like some magical wand, I'd be cured of my grief and everything would be okay again. I have no idea why I ever thought this. Because what happened was that after I made it through the first anniversary, I realized that my grief was more potent than it had been in the beginning. It was as though that fog I had been living in had cleared and suddenly I realized what I had really lost when my husband died. I also realized that as an only parent I'd gotten absolutely nothing accomplished over the year in regard to organizing my finances or handling the estate. Working and parenting had consumed me. I agonized over the decision but finally came to the difficult one that I needed to take time off for myself. My plan was to take 6-9 months off and then look for a job with daytime hours over the summer to coordinate with both boys being in middle school the upcoming fall. I left my long-time and beloved counseling job with the county at the start of that December, just a year after my husband's death.
Did I really grieve over that first year? Yes, of course. In the early weeks I would go to the various bookstores and sit on the floor in the grief section and just sob. But that period was short-lived once baseball started and life flew out from under me. I also think that that fog I was in somehow protected me from really doing the hard grief work I needed to. In a way it was protecting me because it knew I wasn't ready yet to face and handle that part of the process. But I did cry and feel sad and grieve as best I could in the way I could at that time.
That first October I was vividly aware that the new level of pain inside my soul was far deeper than what I'd been feeling during the first year when the fog was shrouding me. It was kind of like getting sucker punched - I never saw or expected it coming. I was blindsided by grief. That fog had allowed me to keep it together and going - but now I suddenly realized that I was in trouble. I needed all those casseroles that had come during the first weeks following my husband's death that we couldn't eat. Now we were all hungry and I was so grief-stricken I couldn't cook. These realizations were in part what led to my decision to take time off from working. By the time I was ready to really grieve, the world thought I should have been over it because it had been a year. It wasn't cool to be grieving anymore and people shook their heads and tut tutted.
I don't mean to scare anyone by my account of how the grief that second year was far more harder and intense than what I'd experienced the first. It is what I recall from my experience and I hope by relating it to bring a greater understanding into what the process of grief involves. It is not this predictable pattern that everyone expects. I never would have believed that it could get harder after that first year - but it did. The fog protecting me had cleared and I began to see the full extent of my loss. And that first year of only parenting had taken its toll too. It was the time that we really could have used those casseroles!