A Deep Dive Into Secondary Loss

Types of Grief and Loss / Types of Grief and Loss / I am a grief professional : Eleanor Haley


The death of a loved one isn’t just one single earth-shattering loss. In reality, it’s a tremendous loss, followed by a lot of smaller losses in its aftermath. 

This domino effect of subsequent losses is called ‘secondary loss.’ Way way back in the early days of WYG, we wrote about these after-effects, and we explained it in the following way: 

“Death does not just create a single hole in one’s life. Instead, the loss can impact many areas of one’s life, creating multiple losses from that “primary loss.” Though it is easy to think that our grief is solely the grief of losing the person we cared for so deeply, our grief is also the pain of the other losses that were a result of the death. You will hear these losses referred to as “secondary losses,” not in the sense that their impact is secondary, but rather that they are a secondary result of the primary loss.”


A Surprising Kind of Loss

When you consider the impact of things like death and grief, the inevitability of subsequent loss seems obvious. Yet, grieving people are often caught off guard by these ongoing losses and the way they compound their grief.

This is why we strongly recommend grieving people take the time to assess their secondary losses. Sometimes, seeing all these losses written down can provide a visual for just how complex the experience of grief actually is. In a practical sense, this exercise also helps to conceptualize the things a person might need help coping with.

It’s also important to note that secondary losses are seldom formally acknowledged by supportive friends, family, and community members. I’ve yet to see a sympathy card that reads, “I am so sorry to hear you’ve lost faith in your fundamental belief system.” Or how about, “My most heartfelt sympathies regarding the loss of half your household income.”

Okay, yes, I’m being ridiculous. Nine times out of ten, those cards would come off as horribly insensitive, but therein lies the problem. These losses are often so incredibly personal and sometimes private that it’s difficult for people to give (and receive) support and acknowledgment for them.

Generally speaking, people will often see a grieving person as coping with that one, primary, loss. Even many of the predominant grief theories have been criticized for failing to recognize the impact of secondary loss:

“There has been a lack of recognition of the range of stressors, the multiplicity of losses, integral to the bereavement experience. Not only is there the loss of the person, but adjustments have to be made with respect to many aspects of life.” (Stroebe & Schut, 1999)

Secondary losses confound an already overwhelming loss. These individual losses are unique and complicated in their own right. Add them together and they give intimidating new meaning to the saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Below, we’d like to take a few minutes to discuss just how challenging some of these losses can be.


How Secondary Loss Relates to Other Types of Loss 

When we talk about ‘types of loss’ or ‘types of grief’ I think it’s important to note that certain experiences might actually constitute several different types of loss all at once. This is quite often true for secondary losses which, among other things, may also be considered disenfranchised and/or ambiguous.

Secondary Loss as Disenfranchised Loss:

Grief theorist, Ken Doka, originally defined disenfranchised loss as, “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned”. 

As we mentioned above, secondary losses are often very personal (for example, loss of faith or loss of self-worth). Experiences that are personal or private are seldom openly acknowledged, sometimes even by the person experiencing them.

Additionally, secondary losses are usually non-death losses, like losses related to financial stability, sense of self, sense of purpose, and support systems. Sadly, non-death losses often go unrecognized and unsupported. Friends, family, and even those experiencing non-death losses may be more likely to view these experiences as obstacles to overcome than things that need to be grieved.

When a loss is disenfranchised, it means the grieving person isn’t getting the support or validation they need. This means different things to different people. Where one person only needs validation from themselves, another person may feel they need the acknowledgment of their entire family. Regardless, the impact of disenfranchised grief is that the person experiencing it feels alienated, invalidated, ashamed, weak, etc.

What helps? Well, as we suggested above, merely labeling and acknowledging the range of secondary losses you’re experiencing can be a good start. It also helps to know that loss is loss – it doesn’t matter how big or small – and you deserve to take time and space to grieve these things. Also, if you feel you’re not getting what you need from your family and friends, you may want to try a support group or one-on-one counseling.


Secondary Loss as Ambiguous Loss:

Ambiguous loss occurs when someone feels uncertain about who or what has been lost or whether a loss as even occurred at all. Consider three basic scenarios (1) a person is physically present but psychologically absent (ex. dementia) (2) a person is physically absent but possibly still alive (ex. absentee parent) and (3) a person is physically present but some major element of their identity and/or the relationship with them has changed (ex. divorce).

In all these instances, something significant has changed and these changes usher in a sense of loss. However, a person might feel conflicted and confused about whether they should grieve these losses because the person is still alive and there is often hope that things will change and return to “normal”. Some examples of secondary losses that could be considered ambiguous include:

  • Absent family and friends
  • Family and friends who are still present but treat you differently
  • Identity changes within yourself. Perhaps a changed sense of purpose, lack of faith, or adoption of a new belief system.
  • Identity changes in family members who are also grieving
  • The onset of physical or psychological disorders in yourself or family members triggered by the death and associated stressors
  • If it’s discovered someone you know is responsible for your loved one’s death
  • Learning a secret about your loved one after their death and questioning their identity

Some ambiguous loss experiences can be very difficult to cope with. We expand on coping with ambiguous loss, and experiencing it as a primary loss, in the  following posts: Ambiguous Grief Part 1 and Ambiguous Grief Part 2


There’s always more to be said, stay a part of the conversation by subscribing to WYG.

Let’s be grief friends.

We post a new article to What’s Your Grief about once a week. Subscribe to stay up to date on all our posts.

Related Blog Posts

Related Blog Posts

See More

162 Comments on "A Deep Dive Into Secondary Loss"

Click here to leave a Comment
  1. Suzanne  February 4, 2020 at 11:09 am Reply

    We lost our dear 22 year old son in April 2018. He died of an accidental fentanyl poisoning. We had never seen or known of any substance abuse but it seems that when he went away to college he got in with a different crowd with risky behaviour. We lost our son and his future, and our own innocence. Everything we thought we knew about him was shattered; our belief in our strong parenting was shattered; our trust was shattered. These are intense secondary losses that we struggle with every day, in addition to the actual loss of our beloved boy. We watch our daughter struggle with all of this and see that her pain is also a secondary loss.

    My condolences to all others who have posted on this topic. I wish you peace.

    • Carol Kelleher  February 24, 2020 at 2:39 pm Reply

      We also lost our beautiful son to a fentanyl overdose in May of 2018. He was an Eagle Scout and Civil Engineer and had struggled for about 3 years with this horrible disease. He too developed this when he went away to college. He was my heart and my pride and joy. He had such a wonderful life ahead of him and had worked so hard to complete his education and find a job in the field he so loved. In addition to the devastating loss of his person and spirit, the stigma of losing a family member to a heroin addiction weighs quite heavily on all members of our immediate family. Although, those who really knew him understood that this was not what he wanted to be. His first pill was a choice. The rest was compulsion that he couldn’t escape. I miss all of the mom and son things that we used to do. We traveled together and attended many professional sporting events. He was always there for me, and I for him. My son put an incredible amount of effort into everything he did, including trying to stay in recovery. The emotional support that he gave me was irreplaceable. I miss his sense of humor and his ability to lift everyone up. I have not thought about why I cry when I think of the secondary losses; I don’t think to separate them. They are all just part of him. My oldest son will be getting married next year. Another secondary loss will be not having my beautiful son there to witness it and so much more.

  2. Dan  January 27, 2020 at 2:14 pm Reply

    Great article,
    It really helped explain a few things.
    I lost my wife of 35 years in 2013. After an illness. In rearranging estate plans, I was told by attorney and wealth manager to not make any life decisions for five years.
    Immediately following her death I was in touch with a few people to discuss grief and loss. Looking back it was simply to General .
    Looking back, I wish I would have attended workshops or classes to better understand the real dangers that lie ahead.
    Being alone in a big house was not comfortable so I sold our home to a son at a cost equal to his current mortgage. In other words I gave him a great deal. I did not care.
    I then sold an estate property we were going to build a new home on. I then decided to retire early in life. I also meet a professional women who was divorced for 10 years and independent.
    After five years of travel, entertainment, and avoidance of memories, I found myself not only still missing my sole mate, but also missing who I was professionally. I miss the challenges, and the salary and benefits.
    I will be alright, but this article definitely outlined the pitfalls that I’m facing. I really wished I would have procured professional guidance From an emotional or intellectual standpoint.

  3. Joan  January 22, 2020 at 7:48 pm Reply

    I am grieving my husband of 34 years, whom I had to divorce, at age 57, after 34 years, because of infidelity and his refusal to live with me.
    At age 90 (me 89), he died after a long time in the hospital on mechanical intervention. He and his 3rd wife prohibited me from seeing him at all, for over 5 years prior to his death.
    His 3rd wife and my 3 children refused to allow me attend his special funeral.
    I received one sympathy card, from my sister who has refused to see me for 15 years. My aunt previously disinherited me in favor of my sister.
    My daughter visits the 3rd wife monthly, 4 hour drive.
    My oldest son invited 3rd wife to visit him at his home in another state.
    My youngest son refuses to have any contact with 3rd wife, thank God.
    I am grieving a divorce and loss of marriage, betrayal by kids, loss of sister, loss of support of old friends, loss of closure at a very distinguished funeral, loss of being an military wife, loss of a nuclear family, my daughter continuing to leave me out (they are on a cruise as I write).
    My oldest son is in the extreme stage of alcoholism.
    On the positive side, I received benefits from the divorce, instead of Wife 3. She has her house, but is otherwise destitute.
    A trust that I set up during the divorce, also helps me financially, and will ultimately benefit the children.
    Mostly I grieve my husband, the loss of a very fine man, his love, our dreams, my dreams, planned train ride across Canada. I am 90 and alone. I’m OK. Thanks for courageously addressing this important matter.

    • Rebecca  March 7, 2020 at 6:00 am Reply

      Hello Joan. I was raised by my stepfather because my mother went to Canada to live with a 20 year old when I was 10. I had a wonderful upbringing, a happy childhood for a split family and could never want for anything. Why I responded to u is because my parents were both married 3 times, as am I. Both my father and mother stayed with their 3 spouse for many years. My dad with rae lynn for 32 years and my mom with schuyler for 40 years. Me with my 3rd husband for 20 years. My point is no matter how many times u have been married or in a relationship, each is special and defines ur life in some way. My mother loved my dad who raised me and when he died 2 years ago, she was crushed. Just because u don’t stay with someone doesn’t mean u don’t have that connection anymore. We love for life!

  4. Lynn Marks  January 22, 2020 at 7:56 am Reply

    This article so aptly describes the new life one lives following the loss of a loved one. “Time heals all wounds” may be true but I’ve still suffered the amputation of your old life. I may look the same while dressed but of course I am not. I carry out my life with every day normalcy but nothing is ever the same again. My perspective has changed. I have changed.

  5. Monique  January 20, 2020 at 2:11 am Reply

    I really needed to read this. My darling husband passed away suddenly 21 October 1919, we were married for 33 years. Reading other posts helps me to understand that some of the weird things I come across as a secondary loss are not, sadly, so strange after all. Thank you everyone for sharing your journey.

  6. Ski  January 18, 2020 at 10:08 am Reply

    Reminds me of a story I read years ago that has had an impact on my life, it goes:

    All of us will eventually have a Big Black Car show up in front of our house and we will be forced to get in in. The cars name is GRIEF and the driver is HELL. It will drive us around for weeks, months, years and even a life time. You wont be able to get out of the car during this grief drive. Eventually it will drop you off back in front of your house a completely changed person from who you were when you got it. Everything looks similar to you but nothing really is and you are forced to live in this new reality for the rest of your life.

    2
  7. Sarafit  January 17, 2020 at 3:47 am Reply

    Thanks for this post. We used it and put similar stuff.

  8. caroline lopez  January 15, 2020 at 7:24 am Reply

    My Daughter died in October 2015 after ailing for quite a while. It was still a shock and unexpected.
    But yes there is the loss of her but I too have lost my faith. I no longer have any relationship with God or a higher being. My other daughters are like strangers to me. Two of them live close and I see them daily but they don’t share their lives with me like Kristen did. The oldest lives overseas and we do talk but not on a daily basis. She was so much part of my life especially since she got sick and we spent so much time together and talked about everything.. I am lucky to have a wonderful husband but we don’t talk about her death and absence . I feel like I am living on hold and often despite being surrounded by people very lonely.

    • Thomas W. Bollinger  January 19, 2020 at 11:38 am Reply

      My stepmother whom I had always thought would be the last person on the face of the earth that I would see that her Temple Work (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) came to me in my dreams for a week M-F wanting me to do something for her, finally on that Friday night I realized that she wanted her Temple Work done. We went to the Orlando Florida Temple and my wife was proxy for her. Six weeks later she came and thanked me for seeing that it was taken care of. I realized that because she could talk to me that I could talk to her.
      A little boy 5 years old some where in the State of Washington with his grandmother in a retain store; a fire set by a volunteer fireman turned arsonist; the boy separated from his grandmother and I can still hear his frantic cry’s as he searches for her, dies in the fire. I asked my stepmother to take care of him and she has because now I can sleep a few hours each night. I want to tell his parents that he is OK.

  9. Anne-Marie  January 14, 2020 at 11:40 pm Reply

    There’s got to be a better label than “Secondary Loss”, because I’d be willing to bet if we each had a free-standing chalkboard and scribbled down every damn thing we’ve lost, as a result of the one we lost, our chalkboards would make Einstein’s scream. It’s loss, just loss… all.the.damn.loss. No need to quantify it, because you can’t, since we’re not all the same.

    • Leslie  March 1, 2020 at 3:37 am Reply

      Anne-Marie-yes , the secondary loss phrase is so medical – distant . I totally relate to your message . What I find haunting is that all of us reading this article and each other’s responses, are walking through this gray valley of unknowing . But we are still walking , for lots of reasons . I have a 14 year old daughter who lost her dad, my soul mate . We are raging and hurting and then hugging and loving each other the best we can , plowing through all the layers upon layers of loss that no one gets unless the are walking this path too. I pray for you , through your sojourn in grief and life. I pray for rest for your soul and heart.
      Best to you.

  10. Carolyn  January 13, 2020 at 5:31 pm Reply

    Thank you for an excellent article and to everyone who posted, I’m so very sorry for your losses. My secondary loss came before my husband passed. For over five years he suffered from a rare, neurodegenerative disease that has no cure and is always a slow and painful death. I left my career to care for him and would do it again in a heartbeat. The ambiguous loss occurred slowly as I watched him slip away from me. My once strong husband was reduced to a walker, then a wheelchair, then bed bound. As his brain slowly died, I watched him decline. I had anticipatory grief because I knew he would not survive the disease; I had ambiguous grief because although he was still with me, he could no longer do the things he used to do or the things we did together. We used to take a cross country motorcycle trip every summer, we took an annual cruise to somewhere we’d never been, we traveled in our motorhome to commune with nature. We lost all of those things. I lost the guy who could fix anything, the guy who sang to me, the guy who always made me feel treasured. My loss, like that of so many others, includes the loss of those things we’ll never do again and those things we’d planned to do in the future. All of these losses come of the heels of the unexpected loss of our adult son, a Marine, to an unintentional overdose of prescription medication for an on-duty injury. Although I firmly believe they are now together, the loss of both of them is sometimes unbearable. I get it. I just didn’t have a name for it until I read this wonderful article. Thank you.

  11. Jennifer  January 13, 2020 at 10:03 am Reply

    I had over a year to ‘prepare’ for my husband Patrick’s death. Like many of you, this is almost unbearable in itself. What I was never prepared for and never saw coming was the overwhelming abandonment by family and friends. Being Jennifer party of one is tabu and because the people in my life don’t know how to deal with it, they have simply walked away from me so they don’t have to face it leaving me more alone and abandoned than ever.

    1
    • Jennifer  January 13, 2020 at 8:32 pm Reply

      I could have written this, and not just because my name is Jennifer and I, too, lost my husband, though I had far less time to prepare. I feel like a ghost much of the time- my phone never rings, I rarely get emails or texts or notes or anything from family or friends. I have worked really hard the past 2 years to try to make new friends, trying to connect with people with similar interests, attending multiple grief groups, seeing a grief counselor, and generally pushing myself way outside of my introvert comfort zone. It seems to be nearly all for naught; people I meet seem interested, seem connected, but then… nothing. I figure if other people who have been in my life for many years, even decades, aren’t going to be around, why would new people be any more likely to stay in touch? I wish this article had some actual advice or tips, apart from ‘give yourself time’ and ‘find other people if your friends & family aren’t there for you.’ Tried it, no luck so far. And all of those secondary losses- of income, of companionship, of self-esteem, of support, of the future we’d talked & dreamed of, literally everything in my life, are crushing me.

      1
      • Jennifer  January 14, 2020 at 11:08 am

        Well on the upside… we are now Jennifer – party of two! I also tried all those things and tried to meet new people and feel more like a social exile than ever. My best friend didn’t invite me to the annual party but maybe next year if I am dating. A bicycle club made fun of me saying I was too old, not a real rider, and my bike was a piece of junk. A Mardi Gras Krewe just told me that I have been bumped off the float and have to ride alone on someone else’s by myself so they could make room for people with friends to ride together. My family said they had plans for Christmas already but maybe I could come over on the 28th. (no I didin’t go)

        I too have been crushed by every aspect thinkable – my home is gone, our retirement dreams are gone, desire, passion, self-esteem and the list goes on and on. All the people who ever really cared about me are gone. I literally just got a clean bill of health from the doctor – and came home dissappointed.

        1
  12. Lynne  January 13, 2020 at 1:18 am Reply

    My husband has dementia. This is an ongoing loss. He is no longer the man I have been married to for 58 years. Not only have I lost someone to converse with, I have lost the handyman in the house. Also the financial planner and bill payer. Some of these things are easier to deal with than others. I am now dealing with a two-year-old husband. I have to change his diapers, feed him, give him drinks. He doesn’t understand why I am asking him to do things. Losing him to death would be easier than losing him to dementia. This is a long drawnout grieving process.

    1
  13. Colin  January 11, 2020 at 12:03 pm Reply

    My wife of 37 years passed away 2 years ago. Its the silence and nobody to share thoughts with that gets to me. I hadn’t thought of secondary loss before but after reading this is makes perfect sense. Where you thought there were years of retirement and “things to do” there is silence and a kind of a loss of direction. While I have been keeping fit there is the emptiness that my family only partialy fills. Thanks for putting a name to it.

    1
    • Gabrielle  January 11, 2020 at 2:14 pm Reply

      I totally agree with you Colin. Since my husband passed away I am going through the same.

  14. J Dale  January 11, 2020 at 9:54 am Reply

    A very good article, if only the people I know would bother to read it they might have some understanding of how I feel.
    2 years ago my mother died, 3 months later, suddenly and unexpectedly, my partner of 47 years. 4 months after that I found one of my oldest friends dead in her home and 9 months later another close friend died.
    Despite lengthy counselling what’s happened goes round and round in my head day and night.
    I can’t sleep, our longed for retirement has gone and I’m left facing possibly 20- 30 years of living without my partner. Everyone says I’ll get used to it- breaking news , I am used to it and I hate it, I’m not lonely but completely alone. My life is meaningless without the everyday companionship we shared for most of my adult life. Reading, walking, swimming, Pilates lifelong hobbies are all things I can no longer concentrate on or enjoy, more losses.
    Before I was physically fit and healthy now sleepless nights, stress, being upset, eating and drinking too much have taken their toll
    People treat me differently now- I’ve suddenly become ” a little old lady” I’ve been invited to the pensioner’s lunch where most people are in their 80s, women only swimming – am I suddenly terrified of men ?
    I’m sure they mean well but the things they say show how little they know me. “You’ll find somebody else ” – ” You can build a new life” – ” There’s no reason you can’t be happy and enjoy the rest of your life”
    From acquaintances it’s bad enough but from family and friends it really hurts, they seem to think I’m deliberately being unhappy and now I feel I can’t talk to them and don’t really want to be with them- more losses.
    There is very little of me and my life left now, after a lifetime of working I have nothing and nobody.

    1
  15. KenMasters  January 11, 2020 at 6:06 am Reply

    Thanks so much for such a wonderful explanation.

    I am really sorry for everyone’s losses, but life (sometimes sadly) works like this.

    Keep up with the hyper good job.

    Kind regards

  16. Donna  January 11, 2020 at 1:42 am Reply

    I have been looking for something and looks like I found it. Thank you. My husband of 35 years passed 8 months ago. He was disabled for 33of those years. Half of my own family had better things to do than attend his funeral . I am tired of people saying how freeing this must be for me to not have to take care of him any more. He was my husband before being my patient and was my husband till he end. All these secondary losses are that more difficult without support.

    1
  17. Mary  January 10, 2020 at 8:20 pm Reply

    I am so sorry for everyone’s losses. Tomorrow will be the 3 year anniversary of my dad’s death, he was 86. My dad always had my back and I adored him all of my life. The one year anniversary of my son’s death just passed, he was 29, he also always had my back and I adored him all of his life. They were my kindred souls and the people in my life who made life unpredictable, challenging, fun and sometimes a little crazy. I now have a life that is quiet, calm, predictable and my heart is so broken I just don’t know what to do. The quietness and calm are deafening and uncomfortable. I try my best to be upbeat for my daughter’s sake (she is almost 23) as she misses her brother who has died and her twin who lives 800 miles away. I really don’t know how to move forward and at times I don’t want to live anymore just because I am so terribly sad and I have those secondary losses you spoke of. How do I ever feel happy again my heart is shattered.

    1
  18. Rozelle Watson  January 10, 2020 at 4:50 pm Reply

    Thank you for giving me an explanation! I lost my 100 year old mother in May, 2018. After my father died, she came to live with me and my family for 26 years. This week, I was feeling so lost, and now I know why. I lost my business partner, my traveling buddy, my spiritual companion, my counselor, and not having children in the home, my reason to be a homemaker and caretaker. I go on, but I feel like I am limping. Now I know, and I can acknowledge my secondary loss, even if no one else understands.

  19. Dira McClintock  January 10, 2020 at 12:55 am Reply

    Absolutely, it is never just one loss,, the biggest secondary loss for me was our dream home. My husband and I had built it up from very little to a gorgeous property with a home we designed and built together and outbuildings for all the toys Too big a property for a 62 yr old lady on her own, so I had to sell it and the 30 years of collected memories and upcoming dreams of retirement and future projects there. So now I grieve that too.

  20. Mary Andol  January 9, 2020 at 10:42 pm Reply

    Well done. I share your articles on my FB page hoping that certain people will read and understand me and others better. I don’t know if it helps or not, but I’ll keep doing it. Some understand the secondary losses, others don’t understand the primary loss and why it is taking so long. I didn’t understand either until it happened to me. I lost my only child three years ago (daughter, almost 22) and my mother (94) two years ago. I live alone, but I have friends who won’t let me crawl into the proverbial hole. Keep writing. thank you.

  21. Andrea K  January 9, 2020 at 10:36 pm Reply

    I lost my 19 year old son in 2018. He was my adventure buddy. We hiked together. We explored different places. We observed nature. We bowled every Tuesday night. We went to amusement parks. The crazier, the better. When I lost him, I lost all of those things, too. I can (and do) do them by myself but they are absolutely not the same without him. You are correct in saying that we grieve for more than just the ones we lost. I loved the life I had before his death. I miss that life.

    1
  22. Marie Alessi  January 9, 2020 at 10:19 pm Reply

    I hear a lot about this in my group “Loving Life after Loss”. Our society is not very well equipped in dealing with Loss or Grief. It is time we change that. The world needs a lot more Hope, Love & Support in times of Grief!

    1
  23. Nancy Brooks  January 9, 2020 at 8:15 pm Reply

    All I can say is thank you, thank you. You have given me validation in all areas. I fit almost all categories you speak about. Thank you from my heart❣️ My only wish is that I could find someone to talk face-to-face with about my primary, disenfranchised, ambiguous grief — that aspect has escaped me and would be so appreciated, especially after more than 35 years.

  24. Thursday  January 9, 2020 at 7:34 pm Reply

    My father died last April. He was estranged or semi-estranged from the rest of the family, but we had a good relationship. Now that he’s gone, I’ve lost my #1 cheerleader, and the person I would always be able to go to with questions or problems with my car, and my summer camping and road trip companion, etc. I’m not really allowed to publicly grieve or express sadness at his loss because other members of my family didn’t have a great relationship with him and they don’t really want to hear about him (hey, how about doing a post on this phenomenon some time? When you loved the person who is gone, but others in your family didn’t care for them and don’t want to hear about your grief, etc)

    Sometimes I talk about my daily problems or concerns with others in my family, but inevitably I feel the slap in the face of loss when I realize they just aren’t interested in my problems and cannot/will not offer the same level of support that my dad did. And that I’ll never have my dad back and never have anyone to tell about my problems, plans, hopes etc ever again. What I have lost, I’ll never get back. And they don’t feel the same loss because they cut him out of their lives long ago.

  25. Beth LaFeve  January 9, 2020 at 3:33 pm Reply

    Thank you! I’ve been struggling for 3 yrs trying to figure out why my grief is still so crippling. This explains a lot of the things/reasons I know are holding me back; specifically the loss of confidence, loss of future and loss of emotional support. I will be doing more research/reading on this subject. Thank you so much!

  26. JMP  January 9, 2020 at 3:25 pm Reply

    Have lost a lot in the last 15 months … my Dad (from Alzheimer’s), my sister (only sibling, from alcoholism), my daughter-in-law (to suicide, leaving three kids under 8), my son-in-law’s dear mother (a month after our new grandson was born, but she never got to hold or kiss). I also watched my best friend of 40+ years lose her son after an overdose, and another lifelong friend lose her son to pancreatic cancer in less than a year after diagnosis. I have had to deal with extreme guilt over my sister because she lived far away and I had no idea she was an alcoholic; I thank God for the hospital chaplain who really helped me through the week I spent watching my sister die. People tell me I’m strong but I don’t see any other choice. I have no parents or sister left, but am blessed to have great kids and grandkids. I try to be supportive of my friends in their grief. I make sure I cry in the shower every day because it feels really good. I just wish there were not so many people grieving lately. I feel like life gets shorter every day. Hugs to all of you who are also grieving.

  27. Trish  January 9, 2020 at 2:46 pm Reply

    I was 32 with 2 babies when my husband was suddenly killed. One of the first things I thought of (after how the hell am I going to do this on my own??) was – who will I vacation with? The dreams of a full and beautiful life with more children went down the drain. Later came the loss of intimacy and missing having a loving sexual relationship with the man I adored – that connection. And many times you have to be part of a couple to be included in social events or trips away – always included in girls night out but not dinner parties. It can be really tough. I have learned that you have to speak up and say “I would have liked to go to that. Please include me next time!” Said with a smile. People are awkward around death and grief. It’s good to talk about it more and more. Get the dialogue going. Hang in there everyone!

  28. Monica  January 9, 2020 at 2:40 pm Reply

    My family and I have experienced massive losses over the past 13 years, “beginning” (I say this, as we have experienced other tremendous losses too prior to these) with the traumatic death of my firstborn, second and third born sons. My mother was diagnosed with cancer in the same year of that first loss, and lived for another adventurous, life-filled 9 years before truly becoming ill and dying in a brief period of 2 1/2 months in 2015. My brother-in-law followed in 2017 with our father dying 6 weeks later. A precious 5 1/2 week old nephew tragically died in October 2018. And my sisters father-in-law in 2019. My sister has lost her mother, her husband , her father and her father-in-law in 3 years. This is inconceivable and yet it is true.

    These unbearable losses have sent us all reeling individually and as a family to try find some kind of footing after each blow. Initially drawn together by those awful first moments that knit us together in shared grief, where you are staring right into the best and worst parts of each soul; the deep, deep chasms that fissure out after loss seem to widen. Our matriarch died and it seems we were left floating, unanchored. These secondary losses have been incredibly painful. To watch others secondary losses and to feel wholly ill equipped in my own grief has been almost unbearable. Too lose who I once was, and my “innocence” in this world in the instant my son was handed to me still and breathless, has shattered me to pieces, and to watch a younger sister have to bear the same agony is heart-wrending. I grieve our innocence.

    I have developed complex post traumatic disorder as a result of this all (and previous childhood losses) and so I am also grieving the loss of health and wellness and energy and pain-free living. I will never be the same again, and I’m not truly certain I like this “new” me who has bristles where feathers were once forming. I am grieving so many things all at once it feels like not being able to catch a breath without a sharp stab of pain.

    The world is not a friend to those who grieve and mourn openly, with all its systems for hiding “weakness” and lording and hailing “success”. And this plastering-on-of-a-smile-to-boldly-face-the-unbearable so that one is SEEN to grieve “successfully” is deeply, deeply saddening. And tiring for those of us who CAN’T anymore.

    So, to those of you who mourn along with me for myriads of primary and secondary told and untold losses, my heart goes out to you in every way your pain is expressed, shut down, fought against, misunderstood, misconstrued, let go and hopefully one day healed.

  29. Monica  January 9, 2020 at 2:29 pm Reply

    My family and I have experienced massive losses over the past 13 years, “beginning” (I say this, as we have experienced other tremendous losses too prior to these) with the traumatic death of my firstborn, second and third born sons. My mother was diagnosed with cancer in the same year of that first loss, and lived for another adventurous, life-filled 9 years before truly becoming ill and dying in a brief period of 2 1/2 months in 2015. My brother-in-law followed in 2017 with our father dying 6 weeks later. A precious 5 1/2 week old nephew tragically died in October 2018. And my sisters father-in-law in 2019. My sister has lost her mother, her husband , her father and her father-in-law in 3 years. This is inconceivable and yet it is true.

    These unbearable losses have sent us all reeling individually and as a family to try find some kind of footing after each blow. Initially drawn together by those awful first moments that knit us together in shared grief, where you are staring right into the best and worst parts of each soul; the deep, deep chasms that fissure out after loss seem to widen. Our matriarch died and it seems we were left floating, unanchored. These secondary losses have been incredibly painful. To watch others secondary losses and to feel wholly ill equipped in my own grief has been almost unbearable. Too lose who I once was, and my “innocence” in this world in the instant my son was handed to me still and breathless, has shattered me to pieces, and to watch a younger sister have to bear the same agony is heart-wrending. I grieve our innocence.

    I have developed complex post traumatic disorder as a result of this all (and previous childhood losses) and so I am also grieving the loss of health and wellness and energy and pain-free living. I will never be the same again, and I’m not truly certain I like this “new” me who has bristles where feathers were once forming. I am grieving so many things all at once it feels like not being able to catch a breath without a sharp stab of pain.

    The world is not a friend to those who grieve and mourn openly, with all its systems for hiding “weakness” and lording and hailing “success”. And this plastering-on-of-a-smile-to-boldly-face-the-unbearable so that one is SEEN to grieve “successfully” is deeply, deeply saddening. And tiring for those of us who CAN’T anymore.

    So, to those of you who mourn along with me for myriads of primary and secondary reasons my heart goes out to you in every way your pain is expressed, shut down, fought against, misunderstood, misconstrued, let go and hopefully one day healed.

    • Cynthia  January 24, 2020 at 10:13 am Reply

      Thank you, Monica, for sharing all this. It does all seem beyond belief, as you said, and one would not imagine one family experiencing so many difficult losses. No opportunity to say goodbye, or share lost dreams, or even to know what the babies would have been like as they learned and navigated the world…how very difficult. We wouldn’t have known if you didn’t tell us, so thank you for that. We trust that by your writing here, you are finding support and help on this page and elsewhere. May the Peace that passes all understanding be yours someday.

    • Adriana  January 25, 2020 at 2:32 pm Reply

      Only when I read “I grieve our innocence” did I realize I am going through the same, as secondary loss, together with a future and protection. So many losses can really make us see life in a very different way than what is dictated by the market. There is an authenticity in grieving that i would never exchange for a shallow “moving on”. If all this leads to existentialist dilemmas, identity shifts or a deeper understanding of human vulnerability, then so be it. There are plenty of people who share these thoughts, it’s just a matter of courage to open the conversation. I lost my fiancee two months ago, he was 29 years old. In 2014, my father, grandmother and grandfather died. In 2016, my uncle died as well. I think of the innocence you mention, lost along the way. And I hope we can replace it with something soothing for our futures.

  30. LW  January 9, 2020 at 2:11 pm Reply

    My son was 19 when he died in a car accident 6 years ago. I will never know the wife and children I believe he would one day have. Two years prior to his death, I went through a divorce and lost my 2 step children. We went from a busy family of 6 to just me and my daughter. Life changed so drastically. I, too, lost friends who didn’t know how to support me or didn’t want to. Even my own family (parents & brother) didn’t mention my son once during that first Thanksgiving & Christmas without him. I know they didn’t know what to do, but it broke my heart. Christmas especially was a big deal with 4 kids in the house — none of the holidays are as fun as they used to be. Though I still celebrate with my daughter, who is now 21, it’s completely different for us. My son is missing from every day and every occasion.

    1
  31. MarySue Foster  January 9, 2020 at 1:20 pm Reply

    Excellent article. My daughter died in January 2019 after nearly a year with cancer. So many secondary losses, they’re still difficult to add up. During most of the year she was being treated for cancer (leukemia), I put my own activities on hold, helped take care of her children, provided a lot of emotional support for her husband. When she died, those duties increased by several fold. I virtually lived at their house for several months and took on important elements of childcare for the two teenagers. I just moved to their neighborhood to make myself even more accessible.

    She had countless friends but they have mostly drifted away to focus on their own lives. My friends are more distant as I have been occupied with my daughter and her family for two years now, etc. At 76, I just see more years of looking after my grandchildren and being supportive to their father. I love them so much but it’s hard to find a good balance.

    Thank you.

    1
  32. Frances Hamill  January 9, 2020 at 12:31 pm Reply

    My husband of 49 years passed 3 weeks ago, from cancer just before Christmas. It has been a huge loss, we own an engineering co, which we have given to our staff all legalised before he passed thankfully. This is a secondary loss for me as I was an active member in the company. The staff are family members and are very supportive, as we are all feeling the loss tremendously. They are going to take our company forward but will need lots of help to do so. I miss my dear husband terribly but am trying hard to get on with my life and look after myself. He wished me to enjoy my life and take the trips overseas he wanted to do with me.
    It’s early days yet but am coping quite well so far on my own. We have no children but cousins a plenty who are very supportive.
    This article is very interesting and helpful to read others comments thank you.

  33. Nina  January 9, 2020 at 12:02 pm Reply

    In the last few years of my mother’s life, I was spending half the week in NYC, and the other half with my mother in a small town in suburban NJ where I grew up. Years ago, when I first moved to NY, I still felt part of my home town because I still spent a lot of time with my parents. In the last years of my mother’s life, I spent so much time at my mother’s that her community became mine. I took her to most of her doctor’s appts, food shopping, drug stores, and visits with friends and neighbors. I felt like I belonged in her town more than I did in NYC with my husband. As many know, in a small community you constantly run into friends or acquaintances where ever you go. You also come to know workers in your favorite stores after going there for years. Also, m mother was well-liked, so wherever we went people were welcoming, etc.
    So, when my mother died, I lost my mother and the community I was still a part of. After taking care of her affairs, I had no reason to drive for at least 1.5 hrs each way in traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway and pay high toll rates to go to her town. It made me sad to see anything in her town, when she was no longer there.
    My life became cut in half. Now, all I had was the half that remained in NYC, where I did not feel a sense of community or warmth. My role of taking care of my bellowed mother was over, as was my ‘place’ in her community. (This is not written to elicit sympathy.. Just for venting purposes.)

  34. Lottie Minick  January 9, 2020 at 11:32 am Reply

    Thank you for this article.

    • Nina  January 9, 2020 at 12:48 pm Reply

      Sorry, it is very choppy. I was interrupted by my job. LOL. So, I was not able to go back and edit it.

  35. Brenda Segall  January 9, 2020 at 9:52 am Reply

    Brenda Segall… Thank you so much for this article. My husband passed away three years ago, but my grief is getting worse. I am happy you put a name on it…. secondary losses. Can you provide a specific reading on this subject. I look forward to all your articles.

  36. Jackie  January 9, 2020 at 9:38 am Reply

    I’m currently emerged in the deepest grief of my life, my husband of 19 years past in October. We have a senior and a 5th grader, my world is on shut down. I can’t think, can’t make a decision, cry constantly, secondary loss seem to keep me overwhelmed. Our family and our home was full of happiness, love and laughter. Now there’s just silence.

    • COURTNEY WHITAKER  January 9, 2020 at 2:55 pm Reply

      Jackie, I feel the same about the silence. My husband of 17 years passed away 5/2018. I have 3 children…we spent Christmas eve with close family friends this year. WHen we got back to our house, it was silent, My 11 year old started crying and said he hated how quiet our house is now. It was such an awful moment…Christmas Eve, and their fun full of life father was not there. It was devastating bc what he was saying, we were all feeling. The quiet is so hard to deal with. And then, they all went to bed and I had to face putting out the Santa presents alone, I was so sad that I didn’t even cry. Just numb. The unfairness of it all. Hugs to you.

  37. Rae  January 9, 2020 at 9:29 am Reply

    A few months after scattering our parents’ ashes my sister and I lost our only brother. Over the past two and a half years since he died we’ve tried to stay connected to his widow and grown children who live far away. We see now that our brother was the glue. Without him his surviving family have grown ever more remote. The estrangement of this part of the family has emerged as a new secondary loss. So sadly, it has made the memory of our brother grow dimmer and dimmer.

  38. Amanda  January 9, 2020 at 9:28 am Reply

    Thank you for this. I feel like this article alone has given me some of the validation I have been longing for for years. It makes me feel better about my grief. ❤️

  39. Gray  January 9, 2020 at 9:03 am Reply

    Yes – absolutely true. When your only child dies by suicide, there are too many to count. For instance, you have lost all possibility of decendents. ETC, ETC…..

  40. Alysoun Mahoney  January 9, 2020 at 8:50 am Reply

    Thank you so much for publishing this important piece. For me, four years after my husband’s apparently accidental death, there have been two big secondary losses. First, I found that after decades of paying substantial taxes and being a very active volunteer with local and state agencies, the moment my husband died I was treated by county and state police as a quasi-criminal. They never charged me with anything, but denied me the right to the report on my own husband’s death, and charged me with a misdemeanor for calling seven times in an effort to obtain it. Ultimately I won the fight to obtain that report, after a new law was passed in the state where my husband and I had last lived and where he had died — but only after considerable added angst and moving out of state. Second, I found that the many friendships I had developed over decades radically changed after my husband’s death. From that point on, I was almost always the one taking the initiative to plan a social event — and more often than not, friends would either give me an excuse why they were too busy to see me, or they would agree to get together and bow out at the last minute. My old friends remain connected on FB, but with the majority, an occasional ‘like’ or one-sentence comment on one of my posts is the extent of our interaction.

  41. Lin Carter  January 9, 2020 at 8:48 am Reply

    this is a wonderful article addressing the disenfranchised aspects of grief–the secondary factors that we all experience. this would be a wonderful topic for a mature discussion group.

  42. Adelheid C Ernst  January 9, 2020 at 8:44 am Reply

    Excellent article. I have never thought about the secondary losses one can experience and how that compounds the primary loss. Thank you for a good explanation

Leave a Comment

YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED. Required fields are marked *