The Second Year is Harder?

Not many weeks after Sarah’s death, another bereaved parent shared that the second year is actually harder than the first.  I vividly remember the horror of that statement washing over me in the moments that followed.  At that point I was still struggling to sleep more than an hour or two at a time.  When I did manage to drift off to sleep, I would invariably be violently jolted awake by the thought that the bus had crashed and Sarah was killed.  I would have to painstakingly walk myself through the details that confirmed its truth.  Reminding myself repeatedly that she was not safely asleep in her bed, but she was actually gone.

This new idea that I would hurt worse than I had in those horrific preceding moments, hours, days and weeks was devastatingly discouraging.  I remember sitting on the bed with Scott afterward, weeping as if from the very tips of my toes, and declaring with certainty in between sobs, “if the pain of losing her gets worse than this, I can’t bear it.”

Since then I have seen countless posts and comments by bereaved parents indicating the second year is harder than the first.  Some even go on to say each year gets progressively harder indefinitely.  These thoughts have been like a looming dark cloud that has finally arrived as I find myself a matter of days away from concluding the first year of my life without Sarah, and face to face with the dreaded second year.

After much wrestling within myself I am sharing some of my view of the first year along with some of my expectations for the year ahead.  My intention is to revisit this post next year to see  how my perspective may have changed and what, if any, new insights I may have gleaned over the course of the second year.  This is, of course, assuming the Lord leaves me here that long, and also assuming I am miraculously granted the memory capacity to remember to revisit it.

I have some reluctance to share my thoughts on this because I recognize the uniqueness of each person’s pain and grief, and I am fearful of being wrongly perceived as arguing with or attempting to refute the experiences of other wounded parents.  That is not my intent at all.  I have deep, tender love and compassion for my fellow brokenhearted sojourners, and would never do anything intentionally to wound or discourage them, or to discount their experiences.

On the other hand,  my intention in writing about our journey from the beginning has been to provide encouragement for those who will unfortunately journey behind us.  Because I found it so profoundly discouraging to entertain the idea that my already overwhelming pain was going to continue to intensify or compound over the coming years, and I now believe that is not going to be our experience, I think it is a topic worthy of thoughtful consideration.  If I am right in my prediction that there is a chance that the second year is not necessarily harder for everyone then I want to offer that hope.

Scott and I grieve differently, but we both find ourselves believing that the second year of grieving Sarah’s departure can not possibly be worse than the first year we have just endured.  We know the coming year will bring new aspects and challenges possibly coupled with new pain, but at the same time other aspects will be slightly less raw than they have been this first year.  We do not expect our pain to be diminished this year.  We know we will not be healed.   Our constant longing for our child will not somehow miraculously disappear despite her continued absence.  We expect this year, like the first, will hold countless hours, days and nights of weeping and indescribable aching in our hearts.  But we are equally convinced in regard to grieving Sarah’s absence, that the dark path before us holds no agony deeper or darker than the excruciating path already behind us.

The explanation I see most frequently for the second year being harder than the first is that you are numb the first year but the second year the numbness wears off and the weight of reality sets in.  I have no doubt that the parents who share this are speaking the truth about their experience, but I have not felt numb since the first week.  Because the pain of those days was so very intense, for me it doesn’t feel accurate to refer to it as numbness at all.  I remember very clearly the gut wrenching sensation of leaving Atlanta in a jet, knowing I was leaving one of my four precious daughters behind.  I can still vividly recall the agony of my soul as I wrote my daughter’s obituary alone in the wee hours of the morning.  I remember the excruciating pain of walking down what seemed like an ever lengthening aisle toward the casket at the front of the church with my beloved daughter in it, my first time to see her since I watched her get on that bus four days before.  I remember watching that same casket being lowered in to the ground and questioning if I would ever be able to really breathe again.  I remember sitting on the couch day after day, peering into her room expecting and longing to see her walk around that corner any second.  I was not numb to those devastating experiences, I felt every twinge and piercing pain.  And that’s just a few snippets of the first week.

The days, weeks and months of the first year have progressively revealed just how deep, wide and gaping the hole of Sarah’s absence is.  We are acutely aware of how radically altered our family is because of her departure, and we have been for months.  It’s an incapacitating thought to think the depth of pain we have consistently felt and continue to feel in staggering waves this first year is an anesthetized version of what is yet to come.  Thankfully I do not believe that to be true for us.  We are not numb.  Though the frequency and intensity of the waves of pain varies, the overall depth of our pain has not plunged any deeper for several months now.  I genuinely believe we reached the bottom of this dark valley some time ago and the second year will be a continuation of this same painful deep valley path.  Certainly the landscape and obstacles may continue to change along the way, but I do not believe the pain of her absence will plunge deeper yet.

I can’t leave the topic of emotional numbness in the first year without at least mentioning the possibility of a correlation with medications.  It is not uncommon for those taking antidepressant medications to experience a feeling of emotional “numbness” called emotional blunting.  In fact, in one study almost half of the people being treated with antidepressants reported emotional blunting.  I share that simply to offer another factor for consideration.  Medication versus no medication may be a significant variable affecting our perceptions of our first year experiences and how they compare to subsequent years.

I am so thankful for the testimonies shared by wounded parents who have traveled before us.  Testimonies of countless examples of God’s grace in the midst of devastation.  Testimonies that speak hope in the midst of this dark valley.  Though our experiences and journeys are each uniquely different, there is tremendous comfort in knowing we truly understand one another’s deep brokenness in the absence of our children.

I don’t believe the second year will be harder than the first year for us, but I won’t be surprised at all if it’s just as hard.   We approach the coming year with the experience of His sustaining grace being sufficient for the first year and knowing it will be sufficient for the second as well.  Based on the truth of His Word and encouraged by the testimonies  of those who have gone before us, we know He will enable us to persevere.   I hope to report to you next year that what we believed was true, and the second year was not harder for us.  But if I’m wrong and the second year is harder, I will truthfully share that next year.  And should that be the case, I trust I will be able to share how His sufficient grace met us there.

“And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:9-10 [NASB]

Sarah’s “When you need encouragement” note:


16 thoughts on “The Second Year is Harder?

  1. Karen, I wholeheartedly agree with you. A friend and I have shared a rough road the last few years of “adult child” drama in our families that have left both of us heartbroken and grieving. One day we went to the movies and it was a year jerker. Afterwards my friend said she wanted to cry…she wanted to feel the emotion but her medication prevents it. She said she always just feels numb. She said her family situation didn’t get her upset anymore but she isn’t progressing through the grief and she realized that. She stopped het antidepressant and it hit her hard as if from day 1 all over again. I did not medicate (I’m not judging those who do I’m just making a point) and I am moved on in my grief. I’m still grieving a situation in my family and the pain is still marrow deep but I feel I can breathe now. Thank you for your reminder of God’s sufficiency in our grief.

  2. Karen, I think the more voices that can speak on the topic of child loss, the better. You are not being argumentative, just documenting your own experience. Like you, I was absolutely NOT numb the first year. But in some ways the second year WAS harder-not because the raw pain or sorrow was any stronger or more pronounced-but instead because my heart began to wrap itself around the fact that this was a lifelong journey. It wasn’t going to end any time soon (unless the Lord willed me Home) and I had to figure out how to walk this new way for the rest of my earthly years. That was another kind of grief that I had not truly felt in the first year. That year was spent just surviving. I appreciate your candidness. It’s refreshing. I pray that this next year you continue to experience God’s grace and sustaining strength. ❤

    1. Melanie, you are consistently such a blessing and encouragement to me and so many others. Thank you for the consistency of your love and grace as you seek to challenge and encourage all of us in this valley. If you are open to the idea, I would love to drive over to Tuscaloosa some day to take you to lunch! ❤

  3. Hi, my name is Catherine Hicks and my sister sent me a link to this site. I lost my daughter, Ashley age 17, on March 30, 9 weeks ago in a tragic car accident. The other 5 people involved walked away from the accident but not my Ashley. She was 1 week away from attending her senior prom, 6 weeks away from graduating college with an associates degree and 8 weeks away from graduating high school. I have 3 girls and 1 boy, Ashley was my second. It all seems like a horrible dream and I’m waiting for her to come home. She loved Jesus and shared her faith with others. Her journals spoke of her love of Jesus. Thank you for sharing your raw emotions of pain and grief. Some days my only prayer is “help me Jesus” because breathing is all I can do.


    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Oh, Catherine. My heart sank as I read your message. I am so, so sorry. I was instantly transported back to those first 9 weeks with you and my heart aches so very deeply with and for yours. I relate to everything you shared from the agony of your child alone not being protected, to the days of “breathing is all I can do.” The pain is indescribable, but I will testify to you that in the midst of it all He is faithful. I have not always felt His presence and faithfulness in the darkest moments, but I want to encourage you that when I look back across them I am able to see each and every moment He was faithful and present. I am lifting you up in prayer right now with much brokenhearted love from Huntsville. ❤

    2. Catherine, I am so sorry, too. Your daughter sounds a lot like our Sarah, who was 17, loved Jesus, and would have graduated a couple of weeks ago. Praying for you and your family.

  4. Thank you, Karen, for your gracious treatment of a sensitive subject. I am confident our Lord will carry you and your family through the next year as He has this first year. I understand your view on numbness. Numb? I felt the full impact of everything every minute of every day and night. But I truly believe feeling the full force of grief is so important for our healing and growth. For me, the first year was visceral – every cell of my body and every corner of my soul hurt with a force I had no idea existed. I believe the second year is often harder because we simply get worn out and become physically and emotionally spent. Take good care of yourself. The Lord is Faithful. it will be alright. ❤

    1. Thank you so much, Kim! I actually wrote a list of things I can already tell I will need to be vigilant to safeguard against and weariness was at the top of my list! Second was loneliness in my grief. I started to include it with the post but deleted at the last minute. Since you have mentioned it as well, perhaps I will add it back as an addendum as a reminder for myself! ❤

  5. Karen you are right that each person’s experience is different and I am so glad you are holding on to hope. Hope in God’s unfailing love is what carries me through each day as it comes.

    Although not on medication, much of my first year felt numb from the shock, disbelief and confusion. I knew from the beginning that I had to face my grief with God’s help head on, but I believe that God knew I could only handle small doses and protected me through my numbness from experiencing too much at one time.

    My second year was harder in some ways than my first, but there were many complicating factors. I also learned many things at Jesus’ feet that year that have continued to help me grow spiritually and experience a deeper freedom and joy than I had previously known.

    I am believing with you that no matter what your second year may bring that God will faithfully and lovingly supply the grace you need. ❤ ❤ ❤

  6. Karen I very much appreciate your honest and God honouring words. I also agree with what Melanie and Kim have written. Leah died in January 2014 and that year I immersed myself in grieving and expected very little of myself other than to call out to God to heal my broken heart. However by the second year I wanted life to somehow return to normal but there was this heartbreaking realisation that there was no normal to return to, this was now my normal. I think that one of the hardest things about the second year is realising that ones grief and heartbreak are long term not short term.
    I had already experienced the death of all of my grandparents and both of my parents. With my grief for them the first year was definitely the hardest and the loss gradually became easier to cope with, but with the loss of a child there is no linear sense of getting easier.
    For me personally I have found the fourth year since Leah died easier (but still not easy) than previous years and I definitely feel that I am regaining some perspective. My husband feels differently and continues to require medication to help him cope.

    1. Victoria, Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and encouragement. Multiple people have told me the fourth year seemed to be a turning point of sorts for them also, they have described it as less jarring and raw than the first three years, so thank you for sharing that as well. I hope that will be true for us, but even more so the cry of my heart (and I’m sure yours, too) is “Come, Lord Jesus!” ❤

  7. hi karen, i have heard similar things about the 2nd year and have thought…”how could my grief get any worse?”. i was not in the least bit numb and have felt every bit of the darkness and heaviness of this first year. we r still in the midst of the first year. our 18 year old daughter passed away 10-30-17. my close friend lost her 18 year old daughter 3 years ago and said nothing is as hard as the first year!!!

    1. Kristin, I am so sorry you know this pain. We are only one month into the second year, but so far it is definitely not harder. It is just as hard in many ways, and hard in different or new ways, but not harder. I’m so sad to hear your friend also knows this pain, but thankful you have each other. There is no comfort quite like that of being with someone who knows. Praying for you now.

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