Secondary Losses: Isn’t One Loss Enough?

Mar 30, 2023 | 0 comments

When we think of grief, we most often think of a death or losing something deeply significant that is gone. In grief, the loss is something that we identify so deeply with that it is a part of ourselves. It is the death of a person, a dream, a role, a relationship, or a hope that is a death to a part of ourselves. 

When we lose something precious to us, we lose the presence of it, whether it be a person, a relationship and/or something else. From this jarring initial loss, we also experience a myriad of secondary losses. In every loss there are inevitably secondary losses. 

This post was initiated from a meeting with the Global Trellis Aging Parents Cohort. The issues of secondary loss came up again and again. The initial loss, aging parent(s) and all that accompanies it. The issues of secondary loss arose in things like, loss of parental functioning, loss of activities that took place in the past and now a loved one can no longer participate, the burden of caring for parents and the weight of love and concern for them. Other secondary losses involved the challenge of finances and communication with siblings and other care givers. The loss of now being in the caretaker role instead of the child role, and losing the nurture and caretaking that was once present were also noted.

Secondary losses are the losses that follow an initial loss. They depend on the initial loss. In COVID 19, we lost freedom, a sense of health and safety, and often the ability to go to school, to work, to have a “normal” day. Many reading this lost the ability to stay in a country and the relative ease of obtaining a visa or completing the paperwork. The secondary losses, the fallout from these primary losses are too many and wide to name. And as in COVID 19, each of the secondary losses are individual. They are influenced by our unique relationship to the event (and the subsequent events), how we see the world, and what our needs and desires are.

In loss, the layers of secondary losses can crescendo over time or happen immediately after the initial loss. Secondary loss may be experienced in the loss of: support systems, income, identity, dreams, faith, hopes, health, a sense of belonging, self-worth, relationships, financial security, home, property, routine, and other comforts. Whew, did that list make you tired and sad just reading it? In cross-cultural experiences, we also lose more things than we can name, but it is important to give space to the loss. We lose things like our familiar foods, comfort, warm water, our own bed, home, challenge in our world view, the nuances of language, knowing what is expected and the list goes on. The initial loss is leaving our “home” (be that in our passport country or country of service) and the secondary losses are a ripple effect that seem to continue; secondary losses are not typically a one-time experience.

There have been many secondary losses in my life. When my mother died, I lost nurture in the ways a mother provides it. I lost the hope for this type of nurture as I desired it. I lost having a person to be able to ask all the things about womanhood that I knew about, but are also a surprise when you live them. I lost a guide and someone who walked this road before me.

When I lost my dog, I lost the normalcy of feeding him, walking him and being forced to get exercise. When I moved, I lost knowing where things were in the grocery story or for that matter where the store is and the comfort that comes with knowing where to get things. In all of these shifts, our sense of self is challenged. 

Our lives are filled with loses and the pain of them and the truth of the crescendoing of secondary losses. Perhaps this feels depressing, and on one level it is. I feel the angst of it and the desire to fight the reality of it on a regular basis, yet I find when I can embrace the loss–both the initial loss and the reverberation of the secondary losses, I am more free to get through the difficulty of it all. There is a children’s book that I love that expresses this well.

I am Going on a Bear HuntRetold by: Michael Rosen. An Excerpt:

We’re going on a bear hunt. 

We’re going to catch a big one. 

What a beautiful day!

We’re not scared. 

Uh-uh! A forest! 

A big dark forest. 

We can’t go over it. 

We can’t go under it.

Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!

Stumble trip! 

Stumble trip!

Stumble trip!

This book is a fun read and has many obstacles; the field, the river, the oozy mud, the snow storm, the cave, until they come to the bear. They go through all of the obstacles again and end up in their cozy bed under the covers. I would encourage you to read it if you are in a season of grief. We can’t go around it, we can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, we have to go through it. As I walk my road of grief, I remember that I am deeply loved and never alone as I walk through the valleys. May we all remember that “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

What secondary losses are you currently experiencing? 

Resources: an hour long documentary on grief

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Retold by Michael Rosen 

Photo by Bradyn Trollip on Unsplash

Katie Brown

Wife, Mama, Counselor, Friend, Grief Specialist




Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This