The first year after my mom died was going to be the hardest. I knew this. Everyone around me who had lost someone they love told me this.

That first year was full of so much heartache and so many adjustments. Not just the adjustment of my mom no longer being with me, but the day to day changes that I underestimated. They seem small but end up feeling enormous– like picking up your phone to call or text and realizing you can’t do that anymore. Or getting exciting news and wanting to share it with that person, only to feel a punch in the gut when the reality of your new life hits you all over again. Or having an awful day and missing the person who could best put your troubles into perspective. These were the things I didn’t anticipate. The little tiny drops that add up to those waves of grief.

One of the things that helped me greatly in the first year was reading. I am an information addict. I read up on everything that I am curious about, and I can’t ever learn enough about a subject I’m passionate about. So I made it a goal to become an unofficial expert on grieving. I read the accounts of others. I read medical journal articles, psychology websites, books on grief– anything I could find. I wanted to know what was coming, and I wanted to find people who knew how I felt.

I saw that one-year anniversary on the calendar as a milestone. I would get to that day, a whole trip around the sun without my mom, and it would be an accomplishment. I felt like the kid in the backseat asking “Are we there yet?” I was just so ready to feel differently than I did.

And then the day came. And you know what? Nothing felt any different. I’m not sure what I thought would happen– they don’t exactly give you a medal when you make it through. No pats on the back. And no tangible relief. Kind of a rip-off, right? Because that was HARD work, and a long road.

I’m now three years into this journey, and it’s still hard work. Not in the same way it was in the beginning, but definitely tiresome. There doesn’t seem to be as much “support” after a couple of years. There are fewer things for my information-seeking self to read that discuss the complexity of grief after three years. There is a part of me that feels like I’m supposed to be back to normal. But I’m not. Because things keep changing. New challenges come along that make my mom’s death more real, and make it almost feel new again. There are new “normals” all the time.

And then there’s that persistent dull pain. That lump in your throat and those tears just behind your eyes that threaten to pour out at the most inopportune moments. I literally avoided someone in the grocery store the other day that I haven’t seen in many years. I would have loved to see her and catch up. But she was an old family friend, and I couldn’t bear hearing the well-intended “I’m so sorry about your mom” phrase. I pictured myself sobbing in the bread aisle, getting funny looks and making this person wish she’d just stayed home today.

I read something early on that said after about 18 months, many people can and do feel back to normal. If you find this same timeline take my advice — keep scrolling. It doesn’t work that way. I was ready to throw a party and circle that date for myself on a calendar. But I found a whole lot more information that said there is no timeline. It only set me up for disappointment to think this whole road was a linear one. It is as winding as it gets.

I think we just get somewhat quieter about our pain after a while. Because it feels like we should, or because it feels easier to pull off of this road for a while and take a break. I get it. We are still grieving, we’re just tired. And we are trying to figure out where that grief fits in our lives after the initial shock wears off and some time passes.

I used to think I needed to be in pain to remember my mom and to truly mourn her. Now I know better. That’s just not how it works. I can miss her without hurting so much over it. And while the crushing moments are fewer and farther between, the dull pain persists. I’ve heard grief described as “a heavy coat that you can’t take off.” But I am so over wearing this thing. It’s heavy and ugly and SO last season. I am ready to just take it off and get to some unknown, better destination at the end of this grief. That’s not how it works either, I suppose.

Hannah Angstadt-Gunning

Hannah is a former full-time working turned stay-at-home/homeschooling mom. She is a contributing writer and co-editor for Columbia SC Mom’s Blog. You can also find her at her blog, Palindromic Musings, where she writes about living with and navigating through grief, and on Twitter.  She is passionate about writing, painting, social justice, wine, and raising strong women. Hannah lives in Columbia, South Carolina with her husband and two young daughters, and is an alumni of the University of South Carolina and devoted Gamecock fan.