The Grief People Don’t Talk About: Secondary Loss and Cumulative Grief

“These are the griefs that people often don’t recognize as factors in their level of grief but they greatly affect one’s ability to manage their grief journey.”
– Rhonda Abrams, Catholic Cemeteries Association, Bereavement Coordinator.

The Grief People Don’t Talk About_ Secondary Loss and Cumulative Grief

What is Secondary Loss?

The grief we experience after the death of a loved one can be excruciating. The loss of someone is known as “primary loss”, but often the death affects many different areas of life. People can begin to lose much more than their loved one. This domino effect is known as “secondary loss”. Secondary losses are those elements of life that were closely attached to a departed love that, in their absence, are also missing. Secondary losses are unique to every individual and can be experienced in a spectrum of ways. Understanding the idea of secondary loss can help you identify the complexities of your grief experience and therefore give you more insight on how to grow along your grief journey.
There is no way to know exactly what each individual will experience. Factors such as personality, lifestyle, and relationship with their deceased love one will impact the type of severity of the secondary grief they feel. Common types of secondary losses are listed below.

Concrete: Characterized by loss of property, financial stability, etc.
This can include loss of:
– Income
– Home or business

Identity: Characterized by roles within the relationship with the loved one.
This can include loss of:
– Relational identity (no longer a husband, wife, parent, sibling, grandparent, etc.)
– Role as caregiver (or vice versa, taking on the role)
– Purpose in life
– Self-confidence

Beliefs: Characterized by deep personal questioning brought on by loss.
This can include loss of:
– Faith/belief system
– Hope for the future
– Goals/dreams that involved the person
– A sense of a life shared with another person

Support system: Characterized by relationships that become distanced or disappear.
This can include loss of:
– Support of family/friends/community due to pain or conflict
– The way one relates to family/friends
– Feeling of belonging and acceptance

Connectedness: Characterized by feeling unable to connect with deceased loved one.
This can include loss of:
– Memories as they begin to fade
– Belongings of the person
– Solitude in your own pain, as you feel the pain of watching others grieve the loss as well
– The person’s company at important milestones (weddings, anniversaries, births, graduations, etc.)

How do I deal with Secondary Loss?

Sadly, like most issues associated with grief, there is no easy answer. Sometimes the primary can be so consuming we don’t even consider the secondary losses we may be experiencing. However, over time the weight of secondary loss can grow. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with secondary loss and learn to identify it. Understand that it is a completely normal part of the grieving process. Just like the passing of a loved one, each form of secondary loss demands a unique and personal grieving process. Don’t push these feelings aside. You should experience them fully. Just as you would mourn the loss of your loved one, similar coping mechanisms and comforting activities can help you work through secondary grief. They key is finding something that works for you and your specific situation.


What is Cumulative Grief?

Cumulative grief is the experience of suffering an additional loss before given proper time to mourn a previous loss. Ideally, after losing a loved one, one would have enough time to process, mourn, and heal on their own time. However, there are cases when 2, 3, or even more deaths happen in a short time frame. This can be very confusing and harmful to the bereaved, as they are not given proper time to mourn each death separately.
Because there is no timeline that fits everyone’s grief journey, it may be hard to know if your grief is cumulative. However, if you feel overwhelmed or that you do not have the time to process each loss separately, you are most likely experiencing cumulative grief and should seek assistance from a trusted friend, clergy, counselor, or support group.

How do I deal with Cumulative Grief?

When we become overwhelmed, our body helps us survive each day through denial, avoidance, and shock. While these are toxic ways of living for a long period of time, it is common and often necessary to experience these in the short term. It is important to recognize these as survival tools, but we should really work toward addressing our loss directly and expressing our grief in a healthy way.

Here are some helpful reminders for those struggling with cumulative grief:

  1. Don’t compare your grief journey to that of others
  2. Time by itself will not heal your grief. A loss that is never fully addressed will not heal
  3. Substance abuse will prevent you from fully healing
  4. Don’t group losses together- each loss deserves its own special place in your heart
  5. It may be necessary along your grief journey to re-adjust your beliefs and expectations
  6. Reconnecting with family and friends can be extremely restorative and healing
  7. Never be afraid to ask for help. Help can take many forms such as a trusted relative, friend, clergy member, or support group. Sometimes professional assistance is also appropriate.

Regardless of the type of grief you’re feeling or what stage of your grief journey you’re in, please remember to be patient with yourself. Grief is a messy and complicated process. The lines between the types of grief may be blurred, and the various emotions you feel along the way may be equally murky. Practice patience and self-love and know that there is always help available to you, should you choose to seek after it.

Are you interested in joining one of our Monthly Grief Support Groups? Our informal gatherings are hosted once a month at several locations. Whether you’re ready to open up about your grief experiences, or would rather sit, observe, and be in the presence of those who understand, there is always a seat open for you.
Click HERE to learn more 

Post written by Gabrielle Sergi 
Post edited by Katie Karpinski

 

References
Cumulative Grief Aka Grief Overload Aka “Holy Crap I Can’t Handle All This Loss!!!”. (2017, November 2). Retrieved August 5, 2019, from https://whatsyourgrief.com/cumulative-grief-aka-grief-overload/
Secondary Loss — One Loss Isn’t Enough??!! (2018, December 29). Retrieved August 5, 2019, from https://whatsyourgrief.com/secondary-loss-one-loss-isnt-enough/

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