Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW
Grief and Secondary Loss
Secondary losses are those that often accompany the death of a loved one and may go unacknowledged beside the more recognized experience of that primary loss. Secondary loss includes such things as role, family structure, support systems, identity, faith, purpose and security. These connections are related to the relationship between the griever and the deceased, and will be different for every griever.
Secondary losses are complicated because they vary so much, and because they are often unspoken. It can be difficult to understand and accept these losses as they are often intangible. People are less likely to acknowledge that the griever might feel pain because of a loss of confidence related to the death of their loved one. We tend to see these issues as challenges to navigate rather than as losses worthy of grieving.
What can help?
Identify these losses. Recognize the many intangible ways that the death of an important loved one changes your life. When we acknowledge these losses it helps us understand why we’re feeling such deep pain and finding it hard to heal.
Seek validation. If your family and friends can’t accept that these losses are just as real and have a significant impact on your grief, look for other avenues of validation. Talk to a grief counsellor, or find a grief support group or an on-line forum where your thoughts and feelings about your secondary losses can be understood and accepted.
Take time to grieve these losses, too. You’re expected to grieve the absence of the person who died. Give yourself permission to feel this grief, too. Create rituals to honour the changes in your life and how they are impacted by and impacting your grief process.
Trust yourself to carry on. You can carry the grief you feel. In time, as you adapt to this reality, it will shift and you will feel ready to develop new strategies, roles and identities. You will create support systems that meet your needs as you are now. You will find a way to rebuild your confidence and re-establish security in your life.
Grief is all encompassing. Understanding secondary losses opens a door to a deeper appreciation of the complex layers of grief that we experience when someone we love dies. Although it can be a challenge to identify these intangible losses, the time we take to consider them may help us understand the ways that grief touches us in so many personal ways and that can help us have patience with your unique path to healing after loss.