Secondary Losses

All of life is made up of change . . .some of it good, some of it not so good. But through it all it is our job to persevere and to adapt. To continually “become.”

“It’s a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark , and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try to readjust to the way you thought of a thing.”

Lemony Snicket, “The Reptile Room”

  It doesn't really matter how long you have been grieving the loss of your loved one, there is always the very real possibility that you will get stuck. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I lost my husband on April 1,2021 to aspiration pneumonia -- a complication of our 13 year battle with his Parkinson's Disease. You will also know that a couple of months ago there was a big pause between posts because, well . . . I'd gotten stuck. So, here I am, coming up on the 18 month mark of Brian's death, and two weekly posts behind because I have been stuck.. . yet again. So, if you are reading this post as someone who's loss is still very fresh and raw, you can see my being stuck in several ways. Looking back on where I was emotionally for at least the first 6-8 months into my grief journey, I would have been prone to think something along the lines of, "That's depressing. I just don't think I can make it if I have to feel this way for that long!" However, I hope that as you read on, you will find some solace and encouragement in knowing that eventually, the "acute grief" stage slowly fades and becomes more like background music, albeit one you'd like very much to silence. The reality is, no matter where you are in this process of becoming whole again, it is still "OK" that you sometimes get stuck. As time marches on you learn how to right yourself quicker after grief knocks you down. And that, even though it is still very uncomfortable, is progress.
  As always, if I think long enough I can find the reason for the temporary set back in my grief progress. This time it centered around dealing with secondary losses. In her book, Resilient Grieving, Lucy Hone, PhD defines secondary losses as "all the dreams, ambitions, opportunities, future life events, and relationships that vanish from your life along with your loved one." If it ended there, those things would create a huge loss to adjust to in and of themselves, unfortunately, that is only the tip of the iceberg. Secondary losses also encompass the many specific roles that your spouse played in your life. The things that are now yours to do, whether you like or not. For me, some of those were losing the person who was the handy man around the house, the person who paid most of the bills, dealt with the financial piece of our life together, mowed the lawn, proofread my writing, and the list goes on and on. And, I will admit that I sometimes get stuck because I have allowed myself to sink into the "poor me" role. Even more than any of these tangible "job related" things, however, I lost something more important -- I lost who I used to be -- the person who I now know I will never be again. In their book, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler have this to say about losing that old self: "Another loss is the old 'you,' the person you were before this loss occurred, the person you will never be again. Up until now, you didn't know this kind of sadness. You couldn't even have imagined anything could feel this bad. Now that you are inconsolable, it feels like the new 'you' is forever changed, crushed, broken, and irreparable. These temporary feelings will pass, but you will never be restored to that old person. What is left is a new you, a different you, one who will never be the same again or see the world as you once did." If all of this sounds like trauma to you, you are correct. Your mind and your body see it like that and react accordingly. Stirring this toxic mixture together adds yet another secondary loss that can be particularly frightening: the loss of one's sense of security. Speaking from experience, I can honestly say that this has a huge quagmire of somewhere to get stuck for me. Not only do I feel vulnerable emotionally from the trauma of my husband's death, but my mind also periodically reminds me that I am now in the uncomfortable position of being very vulnerable physically. Small things that the two of us handled together, say, like I accidently cut my finger with a knife and needing stitches, suddenly seem even more unpleasant when I realized there now is no one here to help me deal with that sort of thing. No one to drive me to the emergency room. No one to bring me home and pamper me for a while. No one to be my safety net. No one. Even more than those little everyday things that encompass part of the secondary loss profile, I think that the heightened vulnerability I now feel is probably the hardest thing for me to deal with and that presents the biggest continuing challenge for me.

  It has taken some serious self-talk, counseling, and prayer to remind myself that  a lot of the suffering we humans do during grieving has to do with the fact that we seem to have forgotten, or, perhaps a more accurate way to say it would be that we have "chosen to ignore," the fact that life is, indeed, impermanent. That nothing, not even something as precious as the life of the person we hold dearest, lasts forever. Convincing ourselves that we have no control over this impermanence of life is a tough, but necessary, pill to swallow.
   So, if like me, you find yourself stuck in the unpleasant landscape of secondary losses sometimes, author Lucy Hone suggests the following:
  • Understand that secondary losses are real and warrant your attention
  • Realize that loss is multidimensional, that grief has many different aspects and scopes
  • Remember that secondary losses have a “nasty habit of revealing themselves over time.” So, you might get hung up on them and wind up stuck for a while, and while it is unpleasant, it is also “normal” and OK.
  • And probably the hardest thing of all, is to remember that some secondary losses can be dealt with practically, yet others are excruciating and have to be endured. They are, like all our lives, a work in progress. (Resilient Grieving, p. 72)

Just remember — You’ve got this. You are going to be OK. You will eventually find your way forward. And that, my friends, is just what your loved one would want you to do.

                by Julieanne Gentz

There are some things in life that cannot be the same
                       even though I really wish that they could.
There are times when there is nothing that really feels quite right,
                       though deep inside I really wish it would.

Days can be confusing and the nights can be so long,
                      yet there's no choice but to smile and soldier on.
For my life was changed forever, and I really have no choice
                      but to search and find a new Me since you've gone.

And I never would have wanted this had life given me a choice, 
                     but it didn't. And that's final. That's the end.
So the only thing that I can do to try and work this out
                     is to hold grief's hand and change it to a friend.

I know it won't be easy, and that all this takes some time
                   'cause moving forward's not an easy thing to do.
But I'll write my story, live my life, make each day a gift --
                    be the Me I am today . . . because of you.


2 thoughts on “Secondary Losses

    • You are a great example of this, Kenny! I am trying to follow that and do the very same thing! Thank you for your comments on my blog! It’s nice to know someone is reading it! I did get one new subscriber! Now i have 53!


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