09 December 2008

Belated Birthday Musings

Sunday was John's birthday. He would have been 36.

Last year, I spent his birthday weekend with friends in New Hampshire. We went sledding, we ate a nice meal, we built "gingerbread" houses out of graham crackers. We lit a candle in John's honor, and we talked about him a lot. At the time, I thought, "This should be a yearly tradition."

Last year, I was all about being out and about. I was a whirlwind of activity. I hated being home, not having plans. I dreaded time that was not scheduled. I feared being alone.

This year, John's birthday crept up on me. I was so focused on our Thanksgiving trip that it wasn't until I got home that it hit me that the next weekend was John's day. I could have gotten in touch with our friends in NH, who I'm sure would have loved to have us come up for the weekend, but it seemed like so. much. work. In this second year of grief, I've often found that being social seems like a lot of work. My life might seem busy to the outside observer, but compared to the dervish I was last year, I've really slowed down. We often have no or very few weekend plans, and being home seems so much easier than going out. I've become terrible about keeping in touch with friends, and I'm often relieved when we have a whole week of evenings with nothing planned. 

So this year, I did nothing special for John's birthday. My dad had to head back to Oregon that morning, so we had a sendoff breakfast for him at Panera, then did our grocery shopping before dropping my father at the airport. In the afternoon, a friend came over with her daughter, and we built gingerbread houses (perhaps that is the tradition?) with kits from Trader Joe's. We shared a simple dinner and let the kids watch a video afterwards. It was a really nice day, a day on which I laughed more than I can remember laughing in months, a day on which I felt peaceful and happy and calm. I thought of John throughout the day, and mentioned to my friend that it was his birthday, but didn't feel a need to create some kind of dramatic meaning in the events of the day. We did the kinds of things we would have done if John were alive. What better way to honor him.

This second year of grief is beastly. The Big Days—birthdays, anniversaries, the monthly clicking off of time passed since John's death—have been much easier for me this year. But day-to-day life has been much harder. My struggles with anger are well documented here, and my general negative outlook is hard to miss. My therapist warned me that the second year is often harder for people than the first. You get lots of support in the first year, and you have so many logistics to deal with that the emotional stuff can get pushed aside. You expect to feel bad the first year, and everyone around you expects it, too. 

There's a prevailing myth that something magical happens at the one-year mark and that one starts to feel better, that the burden of grief starts to feel lighter. I fully expected to feel better after a year. A year is a long time! Shouldn't I feel better? Friends and family seem to think that you'll feel better, too. No one expects you to be fully healed, of course, but the expectation from one and all—the griever included, in my case—is that the overall outlook will have shifted from negative to positive in the second year. Support starts to fade away, not because people don't care, but because they have been giving for a long time and don't necessarily think that their help is still needed as much as it was at first. It becomes harder—at least for me—to ask for help because I feel like I shouldn't need it. It's been over eighteen months since John died, for crying out loud! I worry that people are sick of hearing me gripe about how hard it is, how sad I am, how angry I feel, how much help I need. 

Grief is a long, slow, crazymaking process. If you know people who are grieving, please be gentle with them. They want to feel better, too, sooner rather than later. They want the good days to outweigh the bad. They are not ungrateful for the good things in life, and they don't think that their life is so much worse than anyone else's. They just have a lot of brainspace devoted to this thing that is nearly impossible to understand, an incomprehensible loss that takes more time than anyone wants to figure out. They are trying. They will get there. They just need your help.

I watched a movie last night, and it was so good that I have to blog about it, although I'm sure by now I'm the only person who hasn't seen it. It's called Once. If you like folk-rock and indie films and Irish accents and bittersweet stories and you haven't already seen it, see it. It was so lovely. I've already bought the soundtrack.


Giovanna Diaries said...

Oh my God! I loved ONCE! The soundtrack is awesome! You have to google it and read about how they made the film.
Yep, too much time on my hands.

reid said...

I am like you and just saw ONCE very recently. It blew me away. Do you know what she says in Czech when he asks her if she loves her husband? You should google that too.

Watercolor said...

Snick, I dated a great guy, I thought. He cheated on me, begged me to stay and said he'd do anything, and when I agreed he talked of getting engaged in the spring, and then just after Christmas, he dumped me out of the blue in a phone call. In a few weeks it will have been two years since that phone call. *I* still feel sucker punched some days from that loss so I cannot image why you wouldn't and your loss was so so much larger than mine.

Mama Nabi said...

Good days and bad days... you just start to have good days more often, that's all. The grief stays but the good days will make things easier on the bad days as time goes by.

I think I'd like to see "Once".

Supa D. Fresh said...

Snick, You articulate so well what was horrible about the second year. Yes, the big things were worse, but the small things, and daily life, were so difficult. 15 months was when I started to consider myself actually depressed, and acted to increase my antidepressant a bit.

You're wise to say how you're not ungrateful, but no one knows how it really is, still. That burden gets heavier when you never get a break from it. I found the two years of LH's illness got really heavy when he'd been gone for more than a year -- I was strong enough to look back, and who wants to look back at THAT?

Plus, for me, parenting a 2 to 3.5 year old was really, really crazy and crappy. Things got better when she got easier, by a lot.

Oh I feel for you. Next year this time, it will be one year later. And things will look a whole lot different.



Stacy said...


I second that you articulated very well the difficulty in the second year of grief. It was really, really hard. I do think the 3rd year is finally easier. I have more good than bad days. I almost feel guilty for admitting that, but it is the truth.

(((HUGS))) - how you spent John's birthday sounds perfect. Sometimes NOT planning works out better in those situations.

Thinking about you,

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. Thank you for your guidance, so wise and so well expressed that we should all be more capable of compassion for reading it.
And I'm so sorry that these words, these insights were born out of such an unthinkable heartbreak. My thoughts are with you Snick.

Carolina Girl said...

My mom often says the second year after my dad died was the hardest. I hope for you this means that there are more good days in your future.

I loved Once.

bostongirl said...

Just thinking about you so much. A year is a long time on the one hand, but so so short on the other. "The first" annual event becomes "another" event without the loved one. The shock of that realization is enough to send one into a tailspin. Thanks, as always, for sharing your journey. So many of your readers have found you due to a some kind of grief, and your words resonate with us.

Also, Once is my favorite movie. The soundtrack is amazing.

all the best, Snick

django's mommy said...

I haven't seen Once.

Of course I loved your post. For me, I feel like the fog lifted right around the Magical Mystical One Year Mark, and I have spent the last three months waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm scared. I keep thinking... was that it? Not that I think I'm 'done' grieving, because I know I'm not, but it's been... easier somehow. And that scares me- I keep thinking I'm missing something, that my Big Anger Phase is right around the bend.

But yes, it is much harder to ask for help these days, and I too am just horrible about returning phone calls, and although I love being social and going out, it just all seems so effortful most days. I'm just tired of being the one in charge.

One other thing I've noticed recently with respect to my social relationships... some of my friends from 'before', our 'couple friends'... I don't know- it just seems like all there is left is that shared history, and there's just nothing left to talk about. I don't know how to relate to them anymore, I guess. I don't know if you've had that experience as well, since you didn't get to be married very long before John died, but the shifting dynamic of relationships has been on my mind a lot lately. (no, Joyce, I don't mean you. ;) )

Thanks for your post, Snick. I'm always amazed by your voice and the clarity of your posts.

kj said...

Two parents handling twins is hard. You handling them alone is amazing. You have every right to feel overwhelmed, angry, needy and grumpy.
I follow your blog to be inspired to be a better two-person twin parent.
You're struggles are my struggles 10-fold.
Hugs to you.

OTRgirl said...

Great post. As usual, you do a great job of articulating the emotional process.

I loved ONCE. It felt so real. I enjoyed that they didn't wrap it up with a happy bow at the end.

Anonymous said...

The more you love someone, the longer it takes to get over him. Two years ago, my dad died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage. I still have bad days as well as good, though I think I'm finally starting to have more good than bad. It helps to talk to someone on those bad days. Hang in there-- you have a lot on your plate with two toddlers, and life will get easier once they're a little older.

Jennifer said...

I can't say enough about Once and I am always so happy when people find that movie. I watched it for the first time around this time last year and have watched it often since.
With everything you're working through, I'm glad you have found something to make you smile.
You deserve it!!

moo said...

That's why grief is a process, not a destination and not a pit stop along the way.

I think it's healthy that you are aware of it, talking about it, and being honest with yourself.

I get the sense that you somehow think you are a terrible person for having THIS birthday pass by in a different way than last year. If that's true I want to say ... there is never a right or wrong way to mourn ... and there are always going to be good days and bad days, good moments and bad moments ... and it's OK to move on and keep living your life.

If you already "knew" that, just ignore the last paragraph, as I am Very Good at Giving Assvice.

Julia said...

Snick... I am better these days, but I think mostly because I am busier. When I get the time to think, it's pretty bad. Not really better than last year. The start of the second year was certainly pretty brutal on me... I think the way you spent John's birthday was just lovely.

Aleesha said...

Thank you for sharing your feelings. Your post made me feel connected with something other than my own internal grief.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that you honored John by doing much the same things you might of done if John hadn't died. You did everyday things, and thought about John in a special way because it was his birthday. And you honor him everyday by raising your twins.

Rachel said...

18 months really isn't that long. I think the fact that you aren't a whirling dervish anymore is progress, because you probably need to slow down to have time to process all those feelings. Sometimes nothing is the best thing of all.

Loved Once. What a gorgeous movie.

Anonymous said...

My mother died when I was 7 months pregnant with her first granddaughter. I too kept hearing that whole "the first year is the hardest" line. But I am firmly in the camp that the second year is really the hardest - sometimes it seemed like I was the only one who remembered. Or sometimes I didn't want to remember, and felt guilty about it. And I was just tired with a capital T - physically, emotionally wiped out. For me, the second year was more overwhelming than the first in so many ways. I'm a few years out now, and it is better now - it does get better. Be kind to yourself - you're grieving both parts of John - the emotional supporting part that helps when you have a bad day at work, and the physical part - the part that helps you take the garbage out and helps with the kids. It will get better, but there's no magic day. Just know that it will.

Michelle said...

Hi. I am a "lurker" here, but thought I would stop in and say hello.

I didn't lose my husband, but my mom died when I was 25 so I know what grief feels like(it sucks). I just wanted to say how true it is about the second year being more difficult than the first. It wasn't until the second Christmas after losing my Mom that I feel into a dark depression and contemplated suicide. When I finally came out of it and talked about it with some of my friends, they were astounded. They could not believe that I was still grieving so much. It had been over a year already! Why was I so sad still? I even had one friend tell me I needed to "get over it" and "move on now". Get over my mother's death. What an A@@. Anyway, I like your blog because of your honesty. Yo put it all out there. The good, the bad, and the ugly :) Not many people have the courage to do that. Thank you for that.

Lyndsay said...

I liked Once too! Now just try to get that song out of your head... can't do it can you? Maybe sing some Dora again. That'll do it.

s_ivan said...

That was my only complaint about Once - just like the last commenter - songs get totally STUCK in your head. I have the soundtrack and almost never listen to it... how sad... for this reason. Love it when I'm listening, hate it when it wakes me in the night on endless loop in my head. boo.

Angela said...

I'm so glad you were able to laugh and have a quiet and peaceful day and evening on John's birthday. You're right, those important dates and anniversaries don't have to be done in a big way.
I know this year has been so very difficult for you, please accept any and all help when it is offered to you, you deserve time for yourself and extra hands to help with the twins. I hope 2009 brings you peace, love and laughter. Please take care.

mames said...

once was wonderful. i think i shall watch it again

Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

Thanks for the reminder about grief in the second year. I hope it's of some comfort to know that you've helped a lot of people be there for their grieving loved ones. I will put ONCE on my Netflix queue!

Jessica said...

You don't know me, but my mom died in the summer of 2007 less than a month after being diagnosed with melanoma. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the second year has been SO much harder than the first for me. My friends forget I'm still grieving, and I often feel guilty when I bring it up. I've heard that the pain doesn't get easier... we just get strong enough to bear it. I hope that you continue to see John in your twins' eyes, and that keep on getting stronger.

Anonymous said...

You so perfectly expressed the confusing timeline of grief. Thank you.

-- ALH

Crash Course Widow said...

Everything you said about the 2nd year vs. the 1st: Absolutely **SPOT-ON** for my experience of it too.

The first year was the hardest and most excruciating for me, but I was blissfully unaware that "this" was a long-term, arguably permanent situation. I thought I just had to make it to that Magic One-Year Mark and it'd finally all turn out okay again. And yeah, technically it did finally return to "okay" again...but it took a total of three. long. f***ing. years. Not exactly the magical, faster change I thought it'd be.

The 2nd year I was still in a bit of a holding pattern...like Django's Mommy (I think) said in her comment, in hindsight, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. No...wait...that's not totally accurate. I thought I'd already past the final big hurdles, and I had no idea yet that the other shoe *was* still about to drop.

I'm probably a bit of an anomaly, but I thought the third year was actually the worst. The first year was the hardest, the second was...odd...rather detached and numb, I think. Yet the third year was when I actually felt the worst, when the day-to-day baseline got the lowest and I felt the most hopeless, depressed, etc. And what made it worse was that I expected I should have been long over it, that I should "still" be grieving at 2.5, at 3 years, almost harder than I was at the beginning.

Grief is such as odd, odd thing...and it's so individual too. It's one great benefit of a young widowed support group: you learn that there is no one "right way" to grieve and that there's no true "normal" way to grieve. One widowed friend said the first few months, before her baby was born (she was 3 mos. pregnant with their 1st child when her husband died in a car crash) and when she was all alone were the worst. Another widowed friend thinks the 2nd year was the worst. Another thinks the 1st year was the worst. Yet another thinks the absolute hardest, worst time was the moment when his wife died; all the days, weeks, months, and years after weren't as bad as that first moment. And I think it was the 3rd year.

So see--we're all different.

Thanks for this post. I think it's really accurate and well-spoken.


Miss Lady Finger said...

Dear Snicktollet,
Hi there! I just discovered your wonderful blog (via 'Yummy Mummy'), and
felt compelled to
write you a quick note. I've been reading some of your recent previous posts, and have
been struck by the open-ness and honesty in which you write. I so admire
this, and although you may lose sight of yourself some days, I want to
let you know that you come across as an amazingly strong, honest and
courageous person. I have so much admiration for you, how you're coping,
your ability to function as a mother to two twins. TWINS! I cannot
believe how your doing it!
I can't even begin to imagine losing a husband/partner, everyone's
experience of loss is individual and unique. My Mum passed away nearly
10 years ago now, when I was 22yrs old. My whole family became unglued,
and around the same time, I lost my father (not died, but estranged).
Ten years
on and I'm still grief stricken and lost. I do believe that with
grief it never really gets easier, but you do just learn to live with
it. Grief becomes a part of who you are intrinsically, and rather than
fight it and try to overcome with it, I've found it's something I deal
with easier by just accepting it's a part of who I am. Knowing this
helps me somehow! I think I've just learned to sit with it more
Anyway, I really just wanted to write to you to let you know that I'll
be reading your blog from now on, and to send a hug and some strength to
you over the Christmas holiday. Christmas always seems to be hard for
those grieving, so be kind to yourself, be gentle, and do whatever you
need to do to protect yourself. Most importantly, try to enjoy your
children and have a laugh at some point! x
PS your email address doesn't seem to be in action?

Roads said...

Is the second year really harder than the first?

No, I don't think so, but I understand you just the same.

The first year is all about getting through it. You're just looking at one day, one year at a time.

But in the second year, suddenly you're looking at all the years ahead. It's not just now -- it's for ever.

And it really, really sucks.

I loved Once, too, although the ending was pretty pathetic (warning: plot spoiler coming). I don't imagine his girlfriend in England would have taken him back just like that. And he should have stayed in Dublin, and fought for the pianist, shouldn't he?

clueless carolinagirl said...

I noticed a distinct difference in mom at the end of two years of widowhood. Her mood lifted and she began to laugh again, really laugh, not just pained amusement if you know what I mean.

Thinking of you as always-in fact I thought of you while we were opening presents. "I wonder how Snick is today."

Anonymous said...

I've personally been going crazy from too much music. My mother and brother have the stereo going practically 24/7, and I'm the type of person who prefers quiet. It wakes me up early in the morning, cannot sleep while it's on, and rarely is music that I like.

I also want to say thank you and that you touched my heart when it comes to grief. My dad passed in September, and December has been rough with my birthday and Christmas. I'd been worried that maybe I was...I don't know, taking it too poorly when it had already been months, but I feel better knowing that others are going through this too. I'm currently at a college student, and it's just not a topic I can really bring up with my friends when I'm down about it. Many of them don't even know because I have no idea exactly how to tell them.

I'm will keep your words in mind and try to be there for my brother and mom when the time comes that others stop giving as much support