Have you wondered why your grief seems to be going on longer than you thought it would? It could be that you have some unfinished business with the deceased, or you have some anger you have buried and don’t want to deal with. However, one of the most common causes for prolonged grief is the failure to deal with secondary losses.
What are secondary losses? Essentially, they are a host of additional losses that are a consequence of your major loss, the death of your loved one. They include but are not limited to things like a loss of old routines, the loss of meaning, and/or the loss of companionship or a confidant.
Some secondary losses are recognized the first time you go somewhere and normally your loved one would be with you. You are reminded and it’s sad. It might also be that you have to relocate, withdraw membership in a golf or social club, or sell your home. These are all secondary losses that are very important to become aware of.
Some of the most difficult secondary losses to deal with, often not fully recognized, are the loss of dreams for the future you had with the loved one. For example, you were going to retire to a certain area of the country, or you were going to travel or build a business together.
Here are four key factors to consider in processing your secondary losses.
1. All secondary loss should be viewed as a normal part of the grief process and mourned. It is the failure to become aware that each secondary loss has to be grieved that causes many long term problems for the mourner. This means, financial changes, loss of a sexual partner, a good listener to share your problems with, the loss of the “accountant” in the family, or the loss of never being a grandfather. These and many other changes all have to be seen as losses and faced.
2. Some secondary losses may not show up for weeks or months later. They can be a cause for grief if six or eight months (or years) after the death a significant event occurs (a graduation, marriage or other milestone) and the deceased is not there. It could be very sad. Tell yourself it is normal to be sad in these circumstances, and grieve the loss.
You can recognize your secondary losses by simply asking yourself how the loss of your loved one is changing your life. What will you be giving up? How will it affect relationships with others?
3. Often caregivers are not aware of your secondary losses and are at their wits end because you are showing emotion at a particular time. Sometimes you may have to tell some or all of the people in your support network what secondary losses are all about– that your grieving about them is not pathological–but quit normal, and to be patient with you. Some of these losses may have immediate implications, and you will have to deal with them before you confront your major loss.
4. Do not think you can grieve all of your secondary losses at one time. If you have several, take them one at a time, find someone who is a good listener and talk, and if need be, cry them out. Take the time with each one that you feel is appropriate. Some mourners have found that their secondary losses were even more difficult to deal with than the loss of the loved one.
In summary, death inescapably portends a number of changes in the life of the mourner; the losses they entail must not be pushed away or they will complicate grief in the long run. Some of these changes may be very significant secondary losses that need to be dealt with immediately. Turning your attention to them, regardless of where you are in your grief work, is fully acceptable.