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.