Don't be surprised if the second year is harder

My neighbour leaned over the fence and told me, “It gets harder you know, the second year is hell”.  She had lost her son.  “Poor woman,” I thought, filing it far back in my memory.   

Our neighbours were a close-knit Greek family, proud of their successful 29 year old son, Tony.  His family loved him.

Every Sunday, his sexy red sports car pulled up at dinner time. This week his Mom had run out of tzatziki sauce for their dinner.  It was a sunny afternoon.  He jumped into his car and dashed off to buy some sauce at the grocery store just blocks away from home.   

Then the unthinkable happened.

A car pulled out and cut him off. 

He was killed - instantly. 

His family was devastated.   

Ten years later, and thousands of kilometers away in British Columbia, my own son, Ben, was now 25 years old and his family loved him. It was a sunny afternoon. He was out bicycling just blocks away from home.  

Then the unthinkable happened.

A criminal driver hit him from behind. 

bike mangled.jpg

He was killed - instantly.  

Our family was devastated.

In the next months of terrible grief,  I remembered my bereaved neighbour’s words about the second year.  I thought, “That’s crazy!  Nothing could be harder then this first year”.  

Then the second year hit. Yes, hit.  And I learned the truth, the second year is harder then the first.

In the first year, the raw burning hole in my heart was partly numbed by the shock and the daze of the loss.  That helped me get through the endless chores of laying a loved one to rest.  It helped me get through a birthday or holiday which brought a new layer of missing him.  I was forgetful and distracted.  My grief was also mixed with anger at the injustice of it all.  I pounded on heaven’s door asking “Why did he die God, how did you let something so wrong happen?”

At Ben’s first death anniversary, I felt I had endured to this big milestone, and somehow the worst should be over.  But the suffocating heartbreak was still the next morning.   

In the second year, I really wrestled with my “Why” questions and my anger and that was agonizing.  In a shocking death, the numbness can last into the second year but it was wearing off just as I was facing the new round of grief as the permanency of loss set in.  In the second year the special days like birthdays hit harder and were more painful.  The exhaustion and bone weariness of mourning was also taking its toll just when friends were drifting away, occupied elsewhere. 

In the second year, on the bad days, the pain seemed as sharp as in the first year and I wondered if I was making any progress at all.  But I began to understand the process grief and mourning.  I found that leaning into the waves of grief helped dissipate them.  I also learned that the nature of grief is that it is up and down with unpredictable bursts but the length and sharpness is usually slowly lessening.  

In the second year, friends often think we should be "moving on", but the truth is that we need to take the time to go backwards first, to remember, review and understand our lives together with our loved one.  It takes time to look back to understand our relationship and appreciate what was good, valuable and joyful and sort out what was not so good.  (In fact, the complicated painful relationships are as difficult to grieve as the loving ones and sometimes even more.)  Only then can we decide what we want to bring forward into our own lives and values in the future.   

For me, I decided I would no longer “sweat the small stuff”anymore, after all, no one died.  I decided to be more intentional about letting my family know I cherished them.  I decided to move 3,000 km, to be with my dear daughter, son-in-law and precious grandchildren to be a support to them.

I also learned that the love I shared with my son is still in my heart after death.  If the love is in our heart, when we move forward we do not leave it behind.  It is a part of us now.  Instead, we carry them into the future with us in our hearts, in the ways they touched our lives and in our own unique ways of remembering.  

If you are in your second year, don’t be surprised if it is harder then you imagined.  But you will make it through.  There is coming a time, when you too, will say,

“I have loved and lost, but I will always cherish the privilege of having loved.”  

Big Hugs,

Coach Helga

Check out other helpful blog articles including : 

Five Lessons Learned in the Fire, 

 Birthday Parties in Heaven, 

He is not here,

Just Tell Me What Happened  

The Worst Nightmare

plus helpful Renewing Resilience Tips.  or scroll down for more


If you are facing loss, get the support you deserve.  For additional resources, including a no-obligation introduction coaching session with Helga Bender, MThS, for help to move from ruin into rebuilding  click here.   

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