It has become a highly accepted theory that the first year of grief is the hardest. In a way, perhaps, this is true. It’s the ‘year of firsts’. First birthday without our loved one. First Mother’s Day. First Father’s Day. First Easter. First Christmas. First Thanksgiving. The list goes on and on depending on who the person was that you lost.
For us, however, the first year was so easy compared to year two or three. Year one seemed to have built a shell of protection around us. This, I now know was the shock we were experiencing. It is how our body builds a protective barrier to shield us from the reality of the depth of what we experienced. In a way we were numbed. Another thing that made year one easier in a way was that we had a lot of people visiting us from a long distance away. They came to ‘be’ with us for days/weeks at a time. This was so very helpful since we had only moved here 7 months before Mikail’s death and didn’t have a community of friends or church to truly support us in the way we needed. How could they? They didn’t really know us and most of them had never met Mikail. This is not to say we didn’t receive any support. There were many who were there with us through it all and did for us more than we could have ever hoped for or imagine. Yet, being together with people who have known us for years, was a healing balm to our broken hearts.
As year two approached there was a sense of self-expectation that we would feel better. That things would get easier. But they didn’t. They just got more difficult. The shock was wearing off and now we had to deal with how this was affecting us emotionally, spiritually, and physically. There seems to be an unsaid social expectation that once year one is over, things get easier. Even our doctor (at the time) was of this belief. The visits become less, people go on with their lives and when they do acknowledge the loss, they seem to see us as ‘doing amazing’. We politely nod, but our hearts are crushed and we feel even more pressure to ‘get over it already’. There is this counterfeit of normalcy that grows into a mask that we wear so that society sees us as ‘normal’. And this is when the reality of secondary losses sets in. Mikail is the first loss and will remain the biggest loss, yet there are other losses. The reality that we are no longer the parents of a son on this earth. The loss of hopes and dreams we had for him and for what our family would be. And one of the biggest secondary losses is the alteration of integral relationships because of his death. Some relationships come to a stagnant halt when people don’t know how or don’t want to walk this journey with us. Some relationships need boundaries set because of the intentional or unintentional hurt they cause. While other relationships grow and bloom and become almost holy because of the conscious choice that has been made to walk through the mud and sometimes just come and sit in the mud of grief with us.
We are now in the third year after the loss of Mikail and is it easier? No. It’s just different. Harder in some ways because of the internal work we need to do--the emotional, spiritual, and physical work of healing. We are working through the trauma and the anxiety. We are finding our new identity that was stolen from us the day he died. We are forever changed. We are learning to forgive—ourselves and others. We are learning to be patient and honor where we are on this journey in this exact moment. We are finding rest for our souls. We are not setting timelines anymore--even when others tell us it's time to move on. There is no moving on. There is only moving through. Grief is a life long journey and we are on the road to hope.