My husband died in 2008. At the time I lived in Texas. I had two young children, a job I loved, a position in my church, deep and treasured friendships, dreams I was pursuing, and a pattern of activities I could anticipate on a daily basis. That all changed in an instant. I moved and got rid of the house. My oldest started at a new school. I had to let go of certain plans for my life. I changed jobs… a few times before it was all over. Every part of my life was upended. Every part of my kids’ lives was upended. Compounding the original loss were all these other unanticipated losses. For my family, we felt… lost.
Years later, I heard the term “secondary losses.” It encapsulates all the losses that accompany the original loss. And anyone who has lost a loved one can cite a litany of secondary losses.
Loss of identity – You are no longer known by your relationship to the deceased… a spouse, a parent, a friend. Perhaps resulting changing circumstances also force changes in employment or occupation so you are no longer known by your role in the community. Who am I now?
Loss of key supports – People often fall away after a death, perhaps through discomfort of not knowing how to relate to you, perhaps due to a move, as was in my case. Perhaps people simply think, “You are doing ok,” so they simply don’t come around as often. Whatever the reason, loneliness and isolation mark this secondary loss of grief.
Loss of confidence – It is odd how one’s relationship to others can contribute to self confidence, and how that can be so severely shaken after a death. Your loved one contributed significantly to your sense of well being, your sense of competence and your sense of confidence. It is not usual for people to develop anxiety as they work through their grief to rediscover their strengths and capacities apart from the reassuring support of the loved one.
Loss of faith – One’s faith is often shaken following a death and must be re-evaluated as part of the growth and healing process. Often this results in a stronger faith, but the process of getting there is difficult, and you may find yourself letting go shallow assumptions along the way.
Loss of dreams – You had hopes for the future that were inextricably tied to your loved one. Maybe you had plans for retirement together. Maybe you looked forward to your child graduating and building a life of their own. Maybe you hoped to pursue personal goals that could only be accomplished with the support of your loved one. When a death occurs, dreams often die as well.
Loss of income or financial security – Survivors of spouse loss particularly resonate with this. Most households today are two income households, and with the death of a loved one, income is often drastically reduced. Incorporated into this may be significant medical bills yet to be paid, along with other existing obligations. At a time when one’s ability to address stressors is significantly reduced, the financial impact of death can feel overwhelming.
This partial list of secondary losses highlights how vast the journey of grief actually is. It is not merely the loss of a person. It is the loss of the person AND everything else associated with that loss. That is a lot to process. That is a lot to grieve. And that kind of grief does not heal or resolve (if that is even possible) overnight. Allow yourself time. Name the losses. Don’t be surprised if you identify losses you never even realized were there. If you find you need additional support as you move through this journey, Midland offers several free grief support services, such as counseling and support groups. Call 785-232-2044 for more information.