How to Recognize and Grieve Your Secondary Losses

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.

Why You Are Never Alone, Especially When Mourning

The death of a loved one suddenly throws us into a state of mind where we often feel utterly alone, even though we are often surrounded by friends and relatives providing support. This paradox is a direct result of our cultural conditioning to expect certainty in life and the dismissal of the unseen as nothing but wishful thinking.

In reality, the unseen is infinitely more important to inner peace, happiness, and coping with loss than any physical object or amount of money. Love, hope, peace, and a variety of beliefs, for example, are extremely powerful unseen forces that are the real pillars of life and bring meaning to existence.

You are surrounded by the unseen in many other ways, not the least of which is the power of something greater than the self, which consistently and mysteriously operates in the universe. This ancient concept is critical to contemplate when mourning the death of a loved one. Consider the following in strengthening your resolve to cope with your great loss and to realize you are not alone in your journey. These insights have been utilized by others for centuries, although marginalized by the present day media.

1. God or your Higher Power is always with you. Having worked with many grieving people over the years, it has been clear that their belief in God or a Higher power who was in control and with them, provided their strength to persist. Believe that this great Source has a perfect plan of action that is good, workable, and filled with meaning, and also knows the difficult trials you are facing.

2. Millions of mourners have reported signs or contacts from deceased loved ones. These are not people who were in a disorganized state of mind or candidates for professional counseling. Their Extraordinary Experiences often came when least expected, and when they were not thinking about the deceased. Read some of these stories (Google search Extraordinary Experiences) and you will be convinced your loved one knows what you are dealing with.

3. There are people out there who are praying for you. Sometimes you may know others are praying for you, but we seldom think that there are people we don’t know who pray for others (like you) who are in need. Prayer connects the pray-er, the person prayed for and the Source. You are not alone but are part of this triangle.

4. Notice and be alert to the so-called coincidences that come into your life, especially when you are mourning. Perhaps it has happened already: support has come from the least expected people, you have asked for assistance from a spiritual source and you have received an answer on what to do, or you have an unusual experience when you are feeling especially depressed, and it lifts you up and out.

If you have not had the unexpected happen, bank on it. It will occur.

5. Consider the origin of the wisdom that bubbles up from within at just the right time. When you get that flash insight on what to do in your grief or what choice to make in your healing, think of where it must come from. Science will say it’s intuition. Mystics will say it’s the inner voice of love. But know that it comes from a loving source that is with you always.

6. Go outside and look at the complexities and beauty in nature that point to how intricately connected everything in our universe is. There are hidden rhythms in life that can be experienced by consistently putting yourself in a natural setting and carefully observing the beauty and genius that surrounds you. Focus on the sense of vitality and aliveness that engulfs you and decide where it comes from.

7. Invite a special person, saint, or mystic to be with you and give you assistance in your journey. Some people call on their Guardian Angels to guide and give suggestions. Spiritual traditions and many religions teach that these spiritual beings love you all of the time, and are waiting to help whether you are feeling depressed, abandoned, alone, or in need of emotional support.

Don’t let mainstream assumptions and the emphasis on physical reality minimize your belief in the true power in the universe. Your strong belief in nonphysical reality will help you to know that we are all connected, heart to heart. You are not alone, and will always have unexpected assistance, if you will only be open to it. There are many pathways to God or your Higher Power. One of them is through the experience that millions have reported when they were mourning: gifts from the unknown. Expect them.

Couple the above with building a support network of friends and relatives and you will have a combination that will get you through your great loss.

Five Ways Toward Accepting the Death of a Loved One

The major task of mourning the death of a loved one is acceptance. That is, accepting the reality that the loved one is no longer with you and accepting the multiplicity of changes that are taking place in your life due to the loss. Resisting inevitable change only leads to more pain.

There are two levels of acceptance. The first, intellectual acceptance is easy to come by. We can acknowledge the death of a loved one. However, emotional acceptance is a different story; it takes a much longer time because it involves the process of withdrawing our emotional investment in the physical presence of the loved one.

Here are five ways you can assure yourself that your grief work will not be prolonged and you can eventually accept the death of your loved one on an emotional level. Much of this is internal work and will call on you to strengthen your inner life.

1. Embrace the fact that life will be different; it is a new life. This means realizing you have to give up some of the old routines involving your beloved. Giving up the old for the new is a major challenge. The inability to commit to this fact of life is what often brings on much depression and you use up precious energy in resisting. Decide as soon as possible that you will accept changes imposed by loss and start doing things that will accommodate change.

2. Realize your social circle and/or support network may be drastically altered. If you are widowed, there are some situations involving couples that you will not be invited to. This is often very difficult to deal with. There are also some people, even good friends, who are fearful of death and will tend to steer clear of conversations about your loved one. You will sense their uneasiness. Simply spend more time with those who meet your needs. And, you may have to search for new friends.

3. Work on reducing the amount of time you give to negative thoughts. Negative thinking involves thoughts about your supposed inability to cope with all your new responsibilities, roles, and challenges. Negative thoughts will never create the courage needed to deal with change. They are the number one force in prolonging grief.

4. Look for support from knowledgeable sources. Seeking knowledge and support from credible resources is very wise. Most mourners grieve deep within based on many myths that were accepted as truths early in life. Look for information in four areas: emotional, (how to manage emotions) spiritual (how best to utilize your faith traditions), physical (how to use exercise to reduce tension and anxiety), and mental (how to use your mind to calm yourself and change focus). All of these will assist in reducing the pain of loss.

Ask yourself in which area you are most lacking and go for it. Read. Ask others who have had similar loss experiences, people who conduct grief support groups, in hospices, churches, or hospitals, or if need be, a professional grief counselor. Every mourner’s information needs will differ.

5. All mourners need a companion, an ally, someone who will walk with you through the painful journey. Search for one or more who always lets you be in charge of your grieving, offers choices, and does not tell you what you should be feeling or doing. Bounce your ideas and emotions off this person. Ask for their opinion on specific issues and then decide what you will do based on your analysis of all of the advice you have received.

Acceptance of your great loss is your number one goal. Keep it in the forefront of your thinking as you confront each day. However, don’t allow that focus to obscure the various points of healing you experience along the way. You will feel better, and then have a few reversals. As you keep working, the reversals will not hang around as long as they used to. You will think of your loved one with hope and comfort. You will know that you are moving forward as you accommodate loss and change, love in separation as well as in the now, and reinvest in life. Those are the operational definitions of acceptance.