The 2nd Year of Grief - How to Empower Yourself and Others

At work, the emotional rawness of the 2nd year can be a particularly difficult issue. Systems are in place to give bereavement leave during the initial stages of loss. Understanding of how to support a griever or trauma victim are really based on issues being within the first 6 months or less. I've started speaking at human resources organizations and other businesses to help them understand how to empower themselves and their staff for the long term, not just the first few months.

Two quick points before we dive in:

1) The stages of grief are not to be taken literally. They are tools to be used to give you an idea of what you or someone you know might feel. Also, they can be felt all at once, at one time, or in any mixture. There is no one path. It is personal to you, just like a fingerprint is.

2) The 1st year of grief is NOT the hardest. The firsts aren't usually the most painful (sorry). I sometimes hate even telling anyone that because it means I just freak them out. Don't freak out. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time, grace and space. The only way is through.

The 2nd year of grief can be the hardest emotionally for a griever, especially at work, but no one talks about it.

So many people who have lost someone, something, or gone through trauma are unexpectedly hit by a brunt of emotion the 2nd year of a loss. They feel like they have some how "grieved wrong" or even worse, friends, family, supervisors and co-workers suggest that they should be farther along. This judgement from themselves and others leads to hiding their feelings of grief, delaying the process even further. It can even cause physical symptoms.

Why is the 2nd year the hardest for most people? We spent the majority of the time on our first year going through the motions, consoling others, working to avoid our pain, and doing all the paperwork. We have a protective covering of shock surrounding our brains as we move through this first year.When we get to the second year, that protective sheath comes off, we suddenly grasp that we still have to keep going, and that we can *feel* things more intensely. We can't work to avoid the pain anymore, either, it's going to come out in some way or another.

This creates all kinds of unclear expectation when we are trying to hold down a job, or when our friends can't seem to figure out why we start dating so early, but suddenly don't want to date now. We suddenly put our wedding rings back on. Or put photos back up. Or start crying on the 2nd {insert holiday here} without someone, when we were all smiles the year before.

Our bosses are confused as to why we are having performance issues when our leave was already taken to grieve. Shouldn't brain fog have happened the year before? Why can't we leave those feelings at home? If we work at home, well, that's even harder. Our co-workers don't know how to talk to us about what is going on. We suddenly have unexplained health issues that usually start with "autoimmune".

We're confused as to why things hurt so much more now that at the beginning.

We feel silly saying we need help or more time to process these losses. Heck - we may not even know we need to still process loss. We feel weak and not worthy of our jobs. It spirals into judgement and questioning as to why we did not get through these feelings the year before.

The convergence of our own expectations, society's expectations, and the need to keep being productive at work can lead to miscommunications that are well intentioned attempts to help

So how do we communicate our needs and support? Have a 2 way conversation that acknowledges the pain of the 2nd or subsequent years. Don't wait until things become an issue. Encourage time to recuperate near the anniversary or after. Hold workshops for supervisors on ways to support grieving co-workers, and what signs to look for (hey - I'm available!).

Most of all - remember through all of this, you are human.

Grief at Work: Time Grace Space is my short talk from DisruptHR that talks about the 2nd year of grief. I hope it helps you help yourself or someone else:

Please share this article on social or via email if you know someone who needs to hear it! And definitely contact me if you believe your office or organization would benefit from this talk or one like it. I love helping navigate the hard parts of loss.

So what do YOU think?

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