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Short and Sweet Summary: The secondary losses that show up in the second year of grief deserve to be acknowledged too. Those pesky situations you never saw coming are also part of your grieving process.

We often wonder how the second year of grief could be harder than the first. It’s like we float through year one in a sea of denial and crash onto the shore in year two.

If year one is about survival, year ear two is about endurance. Perhaps our brains protect us from that initial shock of grief in year one. But, in year two, we have to get back to the land of the living. Pain and all. Our brains can’t protect us from grief forever, so we slide into the reality of the grueling second year of grief.

Many reasons play into why the second year of grief is so much harder than the first. We feel the devastating loss of our partner in our bones, but rarely recognize the secondary losses we also incur.

The pain of these secondary losses come to the forefront in year two because we realize nothing will ever be the same again.

Loss of Financial Security

Worrying about money is probably one of the worst byproducts of your spouse’s death. Even if you have savings, life insurance or your own salary, losing income from your person intensifies an already difficult situation.

In year one, you might apply for Social Security survivor benefits, tap into investment income, or cash in a life insurance policy. Or maybe you don’t have any backup income at all. Either way, you slog through months of intense juggling to figure out how to pay your bills and support yourself or your family.

The reality in the second year of grief is that you must continue this juggling act indefinitely. Losing your financial security hits hard because you’re exposed to all the ways you’re now responsible for keeping yourself and your family afloat.

Helpful Hint

If you need financial assistance, please visit Benefits.gov for help finding government resources outside of the Social Security and Veterans Administration that offers benefits for widows.

Loss of Identity

The loss of identity is striking in year two because after the grief fog lifts you don’t recognize the person in the mirror anymore. Who are you now that you’re no longer part of a couple? Or no longer a caregiver? Are you still a Mrs. now or just a Ms.?

You question your identity when you fill out office paperwork asking for your marital status. You know you’re a widow, but do you really need to mark it for the entire world to see? Or if there isn’t a widow optionon the paperwork, do you just mark single, instead?

I struggled a lot in the first two years of widowhood figuring out my identity. It feels weird when my kids’ friends call me Mrs. Murray because that’s a title reserved for married women. But, I’m not comfortable with Ms. either. I don’t like to introduce myself as a business owner because I took over my husband’s business. It’s not mine. I started seeing someone a few years after my husband’s death. So, now I’m a girlfriend, but it seems strange to use words like boyfriend and girlfriend at my age.

So who am I? Who are you?

Well, we can be whatever we want. Losing our prior identity now opens us up to be whatever the hell we want to be.

I’m a grown-ass lady and I do what I want

It took me a while, but I’ve accepted the term widow and now use it in my introductions. It makes things so much easier. I hate it when people assume I’m divorced, so I make it clear I’m a widow.

I’m still Mrs. Murray because that’s a whole lot easier, too. I’m a mom and I refer to myself as a solo parent because I’m raising my kids by myself. I’m also a girlfriend.

It is what it is.

Helpful Hint

You get to decide what or who you want to be. Now that everything has been stripped down to its core, it’s time to take a self-inventory. Your identity is more than just one thing. You’re not just a “wife” or a “mom.” Maybe you’re a writer or a painter or a taxidermist. Maybe you’ve always wanted to be a singer, an ironman athlete or hospice volunteer. Don’t let your perceived loss of identity restrict you. Create a new one and see where it leads.

Loss of Support System

We widows all find out in year two that people go back to their lives and the support from year one dwindles or disappears altogether.

For those who have never experienced a significant loss, it’s almost unimaginable how one can continue grieving month after month, year after year. That’s why those people you thought would be there for you vanish. And those you never expected show up to support you.

The thing is, most people don’t know what to do or say to help you. They’re afraid to remind you of your loss and don’t understand that’s it’s OK to keep saying your deceased spouse’s name. They think they need to help solve your problems instead of being a sounding board while you figure it out on your own. Some of them feel guilty for enjoying a satisfying marriage while you’re in the throes of grief.

Instead of getting angry about losing support, give your friends and family a little extra mercy. There were so many things I didn’t know about grief before my husband died. I know other people suffer from the same predicaments.

Now that I know better, I do better.

Helpful Hint

I recommend the company of other grievers who can sympathize with you and who understand your current state of mind. Your grief becomes less isolating when you find grief support options with other folks who have gone through similar pain. You learn you’re not alone in your feelings or your situation.

Loss of Confidence

It was much easier to do things with a cheerleader by your side. Someone who believed in you and made you believe in yourself. Without an advocate helping you or a defender protecting you, your confidence plummets.

In year two, after your support system diminishes, you’re left to do everything on your own. This secondary loss is scary because you’re forced to do things you’re not comfortable or experienced doing. Like handling the bills or calling a plumber or cleaning leaves out of your gutter.

I remember needing to hire someone to replace a sprinkler head in my lawn irrigation system. I told him I had to verify his rates and schedule with my husband because I didn’t want the worker to think I was easily duped or that I lived alone.

My confidence level isn’t completely restored but after a few years of dealing with contractors and negotiating rates, I’ve gotten better at spotting a phony. It’s important to trust your intuition because even though you may not know how to fix a leaky faucet, you’ll know when the plumber is trying to pull one over on you. It’s your gut that will say, “um…no…I don’t think that sounds right.”

Listen to your gut. And every time you speak up, every time you say, “no that won’t work for me” or “no, that’s not in my budget,” you’ll feel stronger and more self-assured. Your confidence gradually returns when you start exerting more control over your own situation.

Helpful Hint

Use resources like the Nextdoor website/app that’s a private social network for your neighbors and your community. You can ask your neighbors for home repair recommendations and receive information on everything from crime and safety issues to events happening in your area. The more you know, the better you are at making informed decisions and restoring your confidence.

Loss of Future Dreams

You had a plan with your spouse. You were going to raise your kids together or travel together or sit on porch rocking chairs together. Those dreams were crushed when your spouse died, so what now? What does your future hold now?

Fear and guilt tag along on this secondary loss of future dreams because you feel like whatever is in the future will be as painful as what you’re experiencing right now. You can’t see a decent future because your person isn’t in it.

Trying to figure out a new direction for yourself is a scary and guilt-inducing exercise. If you move forward, you feel like you dishonor your dead spouse, but if you stay stuck in survival mode you dishonor yourself.

Guilt is an unnecessary byproduct of grief. But, we accept it because we feel like it’s part of our new reality. The future we imagined is gone so we put up with the excruciating present.

Helpful Hint

Be gentle with yourself and your expectations. Realize your fear and guilt are searching for explanations. You’re trying to make sense of the senseless. Your future isn’t what you imagined, but what do you want for yourself now? It’s OK if you don’t know. But, you get to try new things. You can redefine your dreams. Sometimes you find a new direction by doing something completely unexpected. You have to start somewhere. Maybe you can start by giving yourself permission to dream a new dream.

Other Secondary Losses

The list of secondary losses is as long as you can create. We all have different scenarios and different experiences with grief.

Some other secondary losses include:

Loss of traditionsLoss of family structureLoss of purpose
Loss of memoriesLoss of faithLoss of motivation
Loss of self-careLoss of physical intimacyLoss of health
Loss of focusLoss of inner happinessLoss of patience

What could you add to this list?

How to Cope with Secondary Losses

Start by giving yourself time, grace and extra space to feel all the feelings associated with each and every secondary loss. No feelings should be denied. Don’t tell yourself you “shouldn’t feel” one way or another.

This is a lot of loss, people.

It takes time and energy to feel these losses completely. It’s sad and heavy and difficult, but acknowledging each of these losses is the first step in reducing the impact. All grief wants is to be acknowledged, in any way in any form.

Perhaps you could write down your secondary losses in a letter to grief. Maybe tell your dead spouse about your secondary losses when you visit his gravesite. Assemble a scrapbook with pictures that represent your secondary losses.

Cry for your loss. It’s really fucking sad.

Widow Wrap Up

The second year of grief is harder than the first because we never saw the secondary losses coming as a result of our spouse’s death.

These secondary losses bring up a whole other set of grief episodes. It’s important to acknowledge all of the secondary losses in your life as part of your grieving process. Be patient with yourself. You’re doing the best you can under some very difficult circumstances.

Just keep trying.

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