Grieving secondary losses
Where the death of a loved one is considered the primary loss, experiences that flow from that death are called secondary losses. “Secondary” means that these losses come as a result of the death, not that they are any less impactful or less difficult.
What are some secondary losses you've experienced?
I had to learn that it wasn't so much that I was grieving my husband being gone because with my faith I understood that he was in a better place and that he was in a place, so he was not going to be in any pain anymore and that was good.
So my grief was all about the secondary losses. Missing someone in your bed. Missing someone to talk with. Missing someone to make food for. Missing someone to drive you around. You miss the person that is gone. You do. You miss them almost every day. But that's different than a secondary loss. A secondary loss are the little things that you once had. So secondary losses are, to me, what has hurt the most for me because I've had to redesign and get almost a new life now.
It was a challenge to my um religious assumptions about the world and what was supposed to happen and that was challenged. And then I changed my interpretive framework as a result.
I started to question my own mortality. (chuckles) I started to question my own belief.
You know the 'why' is very important here. Why did this happen, and what is the religious answer? What is the contemplative answer to something like that?
It’s not just psychological, what is the spiritual answer? And um, I decided to explore other faith traditions as well.
Our refrigerator went out five months after he died, and it was like, “Oh God, that’s a whole project,” to figure out what refrigerator, where, what kind will fit. And it was, I think I was in parent conferencing that day. And, it was just crazy trying to get someone to deliver it, who’s gonna be home? You know, all that.
When John died we lost about 60% of our income. It was determined that I needed to move because we lived in a big house, big neighborhood, great neighborhood, great neighbors, but it was just my daughter and I. I could no longer afford the house. When we moved out of the house we lost a great neighborhood, great friends in the neighborhood. We lost the home, we lost the space, all the memories we had, family parties we had. All those things were gone
I didn’t want to move and I didn’t know why we had to move. But it, it was too fast. Like so it’s too fast. I just, I didn’t want things to change. I wanted things to be like they were, I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect to move in a townhouse. I didn’t expect for it. I just didn’t like it, any of it.
There’s times where I think I've been more fearful of loss than I was before in the past. Um, I’m probably the person that is more worried about Mason, (laughs) than anyone still. I don’t want to lose him, ever. Um, it’s made ... Grief’s made me look more at everything around me and appreciate everyone around me more because I know how quickly they can be gone or it can happen, you know, right out of the blue.
M- so I think I appreciate smaller things, um, things that I didn’t look at before. And I don’t know if that’s just getting older, but, you know, riding down the road and, and looking at nature and, and instead of saying, “Oh, it’s this horrible dreary day out.” You know, I’m looking out into a field saying, “Oh, look at the colors, (laughs). Look, look at the grass, it’s brown and it, you know how it, how it, uh, looks compared to the sky,” and, you know, it, think just little things I, I think I’m more aware of, more appreciative of, more appreciative of my family. I didn’t think I could be more appreciative of them, but I think I am.
Um, but then on the downside I do think that I worry a lot more than I ever did before, uh, for, about all my children.
I used to be um a programmer. Uh a computer programmer immediately as she died, well, my life went two right angles. I decided that uh there was no longer going to be a- uh, a calling of mine. It was not satisfactory and it was something less far meaningful in terms of um helping in the world to make a difference.
And because of the social workers that helped me at Bo's Place I decided, “Hey, I can do that.” Because I could become like, you know, the wounded healer.
I ended up in social work school by the grace of God in the sense of that’s where I needed to be. Once I found social work school I kind of like said “Yay!” to myself because I found uh like-minded people who had also been broken themselves. A lot of people who become social workers also have issues (laughs). You know, and um they welcomed me into the family of loss.
I feel like the family dynamics changed a lot, too. There’s such a big age gap and my sisters are on such a different stage of life than I am. Nate was kind of the bridge between, we call it the older family and the younger family. And so, the family dynamics have changed in our family a lot in the sense of, I feel like everybody is on their adult stage of life and then I’m just kind of on the outs.
When we lost, when Loey died, I found out who my true friends were. I had friends who didn’t acknowledge that that ... the death and aren’t friends ... we’re not friends anymore.
I had friends who had ... didn’t ... it was ... just brought such uncomfortable emotions for them that they never reached out, and it took them maybe a year to reach out.
I had friends who just ... just ... would do anything, and they would text, even though I couldn’t text them back. They would come over and help. They dropped off food. Um ... it was really interesting what grief and death bring out in individuals.
I think things that I found meaningful before are not so meaningful now, you know?
Everyone wants a happy person. Everyone wants to be around the happy go lucky. Nobody wants to be around the sad, crying individual. I mean, it’s nature. You want to be around people who will motivate you, who will entertain you, who will make you feel good.
Nobody wants to be around somebody who’s sad. They just would rather have you the way that you used to be. And I’m not the same person that I used to be. It’s impossible. When my brother died, a part of me died.
Secondary losses for me, at the time, were, um, my, my wife, who was, my wife and my other daughter, kind of moved, they moved away to Philadelphia, um, for two years.
While, while, my daughter was in school, My wife had such anxiety about our other daughter being in a, some type of an accident, she had to be close to her. And so I was left on my own here.