Whenever I meet someone who’s just completed their second year of grieving, I ask the same question: “Was the second year harder than you expected?” I’m almost always told yes.

As Mike and I navigated all the milestones that came in the initial twelve months following Madeline’s death, we always said to ourselves, “We survived that one. It won’t be this hard again.” There was an expectation that it would get easier to live with this gaping hole.

I also think we were surrounded by a cushion of shock in the first year. In the second year, the disbelief was gone…but the pain wasn’t. I remember saying to my therapist, “Everyone said it was going to get easier. It isn’t easier at all! Some days I think it’s actually harder!” I was mad. That second year of grieving was so difficult: the numbness was gone and reality had set in.

Jackie died two years ago yesterday. I knew this second year of grieving her absence was going to be difficult but it still hit me hard.  The urge to call her hasn’t gone away. I want to hear her laugh and get her advice. I leaned on her a lot, and sometimes I feel like I’m tipping without her. She got into the craziest situations and told the best stories. When I think about all the things she wanted in life, all of her dreams…it cuts me to the bone.

Grieving for Jackie is so different than grieving for Maddie, yet in my mind they are entwined: both always in my thoughts, both influencing me daily. I love them differently, but fiercely, and I would not be who I am today without them. I hate that they’re gone.

Before we drove home from our weekend with Mike’s family, we stopped to visit Jackie’s mom. It had been far too long – it was her first time meeting James. I showed the kids Mrs. O’s teddy bear collection, something Jackie had always lovingly teased her mother about. The kids played with toys while we hugged and talked, and as I watched James I thought about how hard it is for me to watch Maddie’s friends grow without her. I wondered if  Jackie’s mom sometimes feels the same way when she sees the children of her daughter’s friends grow. Jackie really wanted to be a mother.

I feel a bit of relief that I survived the hard second year of missing her, guilt over that relief, and sadness that she’s two years gone. Jackie’s family generously gave me some of her things, so I will spend some time touching the things she held in her hands, thinking about how she touched my life, wishing she was still by my side.