The Second Year of Grief is Harder Than the First

When my grief post went viral last November and people were sharing their advice on grief, several people mentioned that the second year was harder than the first. That’s crazy! I thought. NOTHING could be harder than the first year. Nothing.

Then the second year hit. And I can attest to this fact: The second year of grief is harder than the first.

***

One reason year two has been hard is because I’m having to face unhealthy things about my grieving process thus far.

After my friend died, I had this deep calling to honor my friend’s name, to write for her, to share her story, to write the novels she would never write. So I poured my whole heart and soul into writing. I would come home from work, go into my room, and spend hours and hours writing. I wouldn’t even talk to my roommates much—especially in the first 6 months or so after the murder.

Writing was my drink of choice, and I drowned my sorrows in it. I pushed and pushed and pushed myself because I was working so hard on my book and my blog, trying to fill the void that was in my heart because of the pain of betrayal, loss, and hurt. My health was horrible, and I felt like a complete wreck.

So year two hit, and I was dating someone (completely out of left field!) for a few months. He asked, “Who are your friends?” I had to say, “There are only a few in Colorado.” And it hit me just how little I truly had connected here. I mean really connected. I know lots of people in Colorado, but there are still very few I’d call when I’m not doing well or need help. Because I was dating, I was suddenly thrust into the real world again. I couldn’t hide behind my writing. It couldn’t be my drink anymore. I had to face some of those unhealthy coping patterns.

I was creating this barrier between me and people, because I was wounded. This has been a problem with me for a long time, but it only got worse once grief hit. When you love people, they leave, they die, they betray you, I was subconsciously thinking all the time. So I just need to NOT need people. Not ever.

If you’ve seen Frozen, I would’ve been Elsa–building her castle through her unique giftings to keep everyone away.

***

Another reason year two has been so hard is the anger.

If there was one word that could sum me up this year, it’s been ANGRY. I don’t know why it took so long for the anger to really hit. I mean, I was angry before, but it was nothing compared to the intense anger I felt this year. In March (ish–I can’t quite remember) there was an evening when I actually cussed God out multiple times.

Yep, you heard me right. I cussed out God.

“Why the @#%& did You let this happen?” I yelled out loud (luckily, I was home alone). “Why the &%$* did You let my friend meet this guy and get sexually assaulted and then murdered? Why the @*&! do so many people use religion as a tool to control and abuse others? WHY, God? What the #$*% is wrong with this world?”

If I’m being honest, I hit a really low point this spring. I was afraid I was going to walk away from Christians. Not God, not even Jesus, but Christian people. I was so sick of Christians. I couldn’t see anything good about the church. All I could see was darkness and despair. So what was I doing, trying to have hope and faith and love? I was going to walk away in anger, bitterness, and cynicism.

I wrote about Judas during Easter, and it scared me how deeply I related to him. I couldn’t see anything good about the world. I was dating, but I had no hope for a future. I couldn’t ever see myself falling in love or having children. I couldn’t emotionally attach to a guy. I just couldn’t feel anything but despair and anger and hopelessness.

***

Another reason grief is so hard the second year is because of shame and loneliness.

I haven’t really connected at a church yet. I was going to one, then I left it, and I’m going to another. I go on Sunday mornings, and I leave right after the service because I can’t handle it. I can’t handle letting Christians into the wounded areas of my soul. I had a hard time dating because I felt like I had to plaster a smile on my face even as I was going through interior anguish. I haven’t felt like I can be honest about how bone-weary I truly am with many people because I’m usually the strong one when it comes to faith.

How do you tell people, “I’m having a really hard time right now because my friend was a great Christian on fire for Jesus, and her husband abused and murdered her—all in the name of God. I see a lot of rampant abuse happening in the church, and my heart breaks for the victims, and I just want to see a church that truly loves people and defends them and heals them when they most need it”?

How do you tell people, “My heart is bleeding in many different places right now. I’m hurting so badly I want to scream sometimes. In fact, I have screamed a couple of times this year. I’m struggling so deeply. I want to walk away from this whole faith thing, but I can’t. Something keeps me here. But I have no words, no answers, no strength left for the fight”?

Can you say these things out loud? Not at church.

I’m ashamed of my brokenness, my questions, my struggles. I feel so alone in these things, because no one seems to understand. Everyone else has moved on but me. Because I’m not waking up from this.

The reality of grief really hits during the second year. The true reality that this isn’t a dream, and it’s very real, and you’re very damaged, and you don’t know how you’re going to make it…

***

So that’s been my second year of grief so far. I don’t even know why I’m being this honest on my blog, or why I’m writing this down. This whole post is a like a huge red flag: TERYN HAS BIG ISSUES. SHE DOESN’T HAVE IT ALL TOGETHER. WHAT A LOSER. I’m such a people-pleaser, and it’s hard for me to be so honest, especially now that I’m more “successful” as a blogger. It puts some pressure on me to hide, and I just can’t live like that. I’ve got write what’s on my heart, even when my heart is in a very hard place.

All I know is that God is really making me face a lot of things right now. I need to heal on so many levels. All I know is that this grief has been a catalyst for me to face deeper and deeper issues that linger in my soul. All I know is that God IS the only answer, and the only time I feel assurance or peace is when I’m clinging to Him. All I know is that God’s love covers me, that He will walk beside me, that He will never let me go—even if I cuss at Him. All I know is that I’m stumbling towards glory, and sometimes I don’t know if I can walk much further.

But I keep walking. Day by day, I keep walking.

Little by little, even as I write this brutally honest blog post that I’m afraid to publish, hope comes back. It stirs in my soul. I know I will make it through. I mean, even the dance I got to do this month was so meaningful and healing. So many good things are happening throughout all this pain. I’m growing in so many ways.

All God wants is honesty. All He needs is my brokenness poured out at His feet. He’s got this. He’s placed so many people into my life to love and encourage me. I am not alone. He will never let me go. Something is going to come out of all this. Something good and life-giving and beautiful.

  • Mary

    You hit the nail on the head Teryn

  • “The reality of grief really hits during the second year. The true reality that this isn’t a dream, and it’s very real, and you’re very damaged, and you don’t know how you’re going to make it…” I so can relate to this. And it can be incredibly daunting and painful when you feel like the world just goes on like nothing has changed, when your own world has completely turned upside down. Teryn, thank you for sharing this and being so honest. Holding you in my prayers during this time.

    • Thanks for the prayers and encouragement, Emily! I definitely need it.

  • Jamie Janosz

    A brave post – I so appreciate when you speak truth like this, even when it isn’t pretty or what people might expect. So hard to speak our mind, and yet it is exactly where we need to be. I will keep praying with you that God will give you deep, valuable connections and allow you to keep growing in new ways this year. And, go ahead and rage – that’s a big part of healing, I believe.

    • Thanks, Jamie! Honestly, I have been doing better since beginning of May–and the trip to Chicago was a much-needed breath of fresh air. I got to spend time with and gain encouragement from some amazing people (including you), and I do feel as if I’m coming out of this period (at least for now! grief is so unpredictable). Thanks for your words of wisdom and encouragement.

  • Rabbi Ruth Adar

    Owning our truths is one of the ways we work our way through grief. Thank you for articulating your truth at this moment.

    In the Jewish tradition, yelling at God is sometimes a form of prayer. Job does it, and Job is described in multiple places as a righteous man. There’s a whole book of it in the Bible; the book of Lamentations is written in the voice of a person who looks at what is left of the city of Jerusalem after the destruction in 586 BCE and who wails, “Look at what You have done, God!” The speaker is clearly angry about the suffering of the innocent.

    Also, thank you for teaching me that I need to check in with special sensitivity on people who are in the second year of mourning.

    • That’s really cool insight into the Jewish tradition. Thanks for that. I love the psalms and prophets in the Old Testament because they show the broad range of human emotions, from anger and despair and grief to joy and celebration and hope. I’ll have to read Lamentations again–it’s been a long time since I’ve read it.
      Again, thanks for the comment!

  • SpiritualPopCulture

    I guess we must believe that somehow something good will eventually come out of it. That there will be some meaning, some insight, some new way of living. I think part of the pain is expecting that you’ll feel like your old self again. But you don’t. Even after a year. Something has essentially changed. But at some point there is always some healing.

    This is a really brave and well-written piece. Thanks for sharing your feelings.

    • Yes, that is true. I think I still want to go back and be my old self before everything happened. And yet, maybe I don’t because I’ve learned deepened and grown so much–even if it’s been painful. I can only hope my joy and passion for life is restored, that’s what I really want back. Haven’t felt much joy or passion this year.

  • Tim

    “TERYN HAS BIG ISSUES. SHE DOESN’T HAVE IT ALL TOGETHER. WHAT A LOSER.”

    Replace my name for yours and it’s just as true, Teryn. (Oh yeah, change “she” to “he” too. Or don’t.)

    I am so glad you’ve let us know what’s been going on mentally and emotionally and spiritually and however you want to characterize it. Time is going to pass and you are going to be dealing with all this in different ways in different years. God’s always going to be there too, the whole time and every moment.

    Blessings,
    Tim

    • Thanks, Tim. Yes, we ALL have issues. Very true. Thank you for reminding me of grace. :)

  • Bev Place Walkling

    We all have times where our sorrows overwhelm us and it is suprisingly easy to isolate ourselves rather than share our pain with others. I will hold you in my heart. I cling to Psalm 30 – there may be tears during the night, but joy comes in the morning. …you have turned my sadness into dancing… and so I will not be silent…

  • Janene Gregson

    Thank God you are being honest…no one has it all together redeemed or unredeemed I think. , I truely wish more people would be honest and say those things at church, it’s where you should be able to say them. Although a bit disheartened to keep hearing the second year is worse, as I sit on the eve of my first year without my husband, I would rather hear an honest account than a fluffy one. I must say I chose to face some of the emotion head on and it has brought much relief and a sense of being able to move forward. I feel the gauntlet of emotion welling as I approach this unwanted anniversary, and maybe I will change my mind in a couple of days, but I do recommend the full frontal approach with some professional back up. God Bless you Teryn I hope you find peace and relief.

    • Yep, I wish there was more honesty, too. I’m sure it’s different for different people, but I’ve heard it repeated often enough now that it must be like that for many. I’m praying for courage and strength as you continue to walk this journey.

  • Yes and yes and yes. And also, hugs.

  • Yes, your right about the numbness, in a way. I was definitely in shock after it happened and I think that’s worn off. I remember I used to think, “This can’t be true. Is this true? I’m dreaming. This is all a bad dream.” It wasn’t until year two where it really, really hit: “This is truly your new reality.”

  • So sorry, BJ. I hope you can find a grief group or counseling or somewhere to go where you can freely talk about these things. I’m glad my writing could help you out in some small way.

  • Thanks, Michele. Yes, people do need a heads up. It’s a very alone time. :/

  • Rachel Morrisette Brannen

    Teryn, thank you for sharing from your heart and place of brokenness. I am glad dance could be cathartic and a place of healing, joy, release and so many more things we might never understand. With lots of love, Rachel

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  • Momkgbe

    Thank you for putting into words what my heart is feeling. I don’t comment much, but your writings are helping me heal. God bless you!

  • Anon

    I’m so sorry about your friend, it’s truly horrendous and my heart goes out to you. I know this is an old post but I was desperately searching for words of wisdom as I’m really struggling with my mum’s very premature death, and she also told me on her deathbedthat her stepdad abused her as a teenager while her own mum lay dying. My mum went through other trauma in childhood but I don’t want to say as I’m scared my family might find this one day…I want to scream from the rooftops how amazing my mum is as the world continues, but know I can’t…you don’t get ‘it’ until you’re faced with grief, and people are petrified of death so you inevitably face it alone.

    God has soothed my soul too. This journey has been such a messy wrangle, so it would be trite to say God protects you from the pain of this world but I know he is beside me. As is my mum.

    Thank you for your calming words. When the pain is almost unbearable and you feel like the only person in the world suffering from grief, it’s ‘nice’ to know you’re not alone.

    • Anon, thanks for the comment. Yes, grief feels so alone, but I’m so glad that you can read something like this and realize that you aren’t alone in the feelings you feel.

  • Isi Adeola

    Hi Teryn. I’m yet to enter the second year of grieving after my Mum was murdered last December. Even now I have expressed anger at God for it and full on cussed him out as well. I know God will make things beautiful even though right now the journey sucks… Thanks so much for being real!

  • Debra

    Thank you for your honesty! I have been beating myself and wondering what was wrong with!! The holidays hit and seems like it has been down hill since!! Your honesty gives me hope! I know God has me and He is with me, which is why I can’t understand this new wave grief!!

    • It comes and goes. I have recently been experiencing a new wave a grief (after 3 1/2 years after death), and it’s been up and down. It’s okay to grieve–give yourself grace in the process. As the years pass, maybe it hits you in different ways how the loss impacted you, and you have to grieve at a new level in order to move on. I wish you the best.

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  • Rose

    What a wonderful post. My husband took his own life 19 months ago and as we are approaching the 2nd year. I feel horrible. I am having anxiety and panic attacks and feel like reality set in. I hope you have found some peace and thank you for your honestly in this blog!