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/

6 Journaling Prompts for Those Who Are Grieving

Taking up a new activity such as grief journaling after a significant loss can be intimidating, but it can be very restorative. Everyone’s healing is unique and unfolds in its own time, but reconnecting with your body and reconstructing personal self-narrative is vital. A grief journal can be a way to express this narrative free of judgement. Without the freedom to explore the full extent of your emotions, it becomes a nearly-impossible challenge to rebuild. Grief journals can also record growth and reveal patterns useful in the future.
Listed below are 6 prompts to help you begin. Write freely and genuinely, the space is yours.

berevementblog

1. Today, I am really missing…
2. What really angers me is…
3. I wish I could ask you…
4. My hope for me is…
5. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed by pain, regret, guilt, or despair, I will repeat this mantra:
6. The greatest lesson I have learned is…

You may find grief journaling, or journaling overall, is not for you. If other outlets of expression work better for you, pursue them. Some people find that drawing or illustrating their emotions works for them. Others may find more unique activities such as playing an instrument or crafting helps them express what they’re feeling. Whatever the case, finding an activity that helps you work and grow through your grief is vital to a healthy bereavement process.

If you have an activity you’ve found helpful, please share it in the comments. Your suggestion may help others in your situation.

Interested in attending a grief support group? Click here to learn more. 

Post written by Gabrielle Sergi

What to Expect When Grieving the Loss of Your Father

Losing your father (or a father figure) can be one of life’s most traumatic events. As people who are known for being your biggest cheerleader, friend, fixer, and life coach—losing them will change your life as you know it. Each person has a very unique relationship with their father. This means that no grief experience will ever be exactly the same. However, there are some common emotions most people feel after losing their dad. Grief reactions may also depend on your stage in life. A younger person who still lives at home and depends on their father for daily support may feel a stronger sense of abandonment, whereas someone in their 60’s who remained close to their father may feel a stronger loss in regard to the decades of friendship established between them and their father. No matter your age, keep reading for some specific emotions you may feel after losing your father, as well as ways to work through these emotions.

What to Expect When Grieving the Loss of Your Father

Shock

The time immediately following the death of a loved one can be hectic. There’s much that must be done to make arrangements, and these arrangements can take away a majority of your time and energy. Because of this flurry of activity, the full emotional impact of your loss may not hit you right away. You may still be in a state of shock or disbelief during the first few months following the passing of your father. Realize that being numb to the pain doesn’t make it any less real. It’s perfectly normal to not fully feel the loss right away. Don’t grow frustrated if you aren’t experiencing the emotional reaction you expected.

 

Sadness

Another common emotion many people feel is intense sadness or depression. As it is with the loss of any loved one, realizing that someone who you loved and cared for very much is gone from this world is a somber experience. While managing this sadness is specific to each person, it’s important that you allow yourself to acknowledge and respect the emotions you feel. Trying to hide your sadness is not healthy for your grief journey, and may prevent you from full healing in the future. As hard as it may be, depression is a natural part of the bereavement process, so it’s better to accept these emotions than to fight them.

Please note: While depression is a normal part of grief, it’s important to reflect on the severity of your depression over time. If you find that your depression persists without any good days, impairs your function of daily activities, or prompts thoughts of self-harm, professional help may be required.

 

Abandonment

Since fathers are often recognized for their protective and providing nature, losing your father may stir feelings of abandonment. The man who was once known as your “fixer” and guardian is no longer around to support you. You may feel as if a level of security is gone from your life. Coming to terms with this change will be hard, but don’t lose hope. Learn to rely on other people in your life. Reach out to trusted friends and family. Lean on your local parish community. Most of all, take this opportunity to remind yourself how much you are personally capable of – losing your father is undoubtedly difficult, but God will give you the strength and support you need to move forward in life.

 

Anger

While no one is ever ready to lose their dad, those who lose their father earlier in life may feel angry. You may feel as if time was stolen from you, or that you’ve been cheated from monumental occasions. Even for those who lose their father later in life, anger is a natural part of the grief process. God’s plan isn’t always easy to understand or accept. If you find yourself experiencing anger, know that it is natural. Like any other emotion you may be feeling, don’t back away from these feelings. Instead, acknowledge them and try to focus your energy on working through this anger to reach some level of peace and healing. Similar to symptoms of depression, you may want to seek assistance of a professional if anger starts impacting your daily living.

 

Peace

As unbelievable as it may seem at first, eventually you will achieve some level of peace and comfort in regard to your father’s passing. Full understanding can only come with time and much self-reflection. As Catholics, we can also find immense hope and peace in the promise of salvation. It is our hope that one day we will be reunited with our loved ones in the presence of Christ. As you work through your grief, try to shift your mindset from saying goodbye to your loved one toward saying “I’ll see you again.” Also consider that your loved ones are likely lifting you in their (now divine) prayers and cheering you on to find new courage and peace.

A healing way to work through your grief, and the various emotions you may feel along the way, is to find ways to honor your father. Watching his favorite movie, making his favorite meal, or ordering his favorite cocktail are all ways you can feel closer to him. Keep his memory alive by looking at pictures of him often, and telling your favorite stories about his life to other close family members and friends. There is no reason why you can’t keep a strong relationship with your father even after his passing.

 

If you’re interested in further grief support, please consider attending one of our monthly Grief Support Groups. These informal and all-inclusive groups meet once a month for 1-hour. Come be in the presence of those who understand. For grief support dates and locations, please visit clecem.org.

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

He Knows: Turning to God for Understanding and Peace

The pain we experience on this earth is entirely unique. While situations such as the loss of a loved one affect everyone, each person experiences grief and pain in different ways. It’s common to feel as if no one knows how much pain you’re in, or the confusion and anger you may feel. You may imagine that you are completely alone in this world, with no one to turn to for understanding and peace. While these thoughts may be overwhelming, remember that God always knows. He knows every thought, every desire, and every feeling that flows through your mind. There isn’t a thing that goes unnoticed by God. We may not always feel His strong presence, but God is always working to make sure our lives go according to plan.

March 2019 Bereavement

God reaffirms His love and knowledge of us time and time again in scripture…

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” – Romans 8:27-28

“Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” –Psalm 139:4-5

This holy message is also depicted in Jeremy Camp’s song: “He Knows.”

Camp’s moving song proves that everyone feels bogged down and isolated at times. It’s also a powerful reminder that God is not only constantly with us, but is also constantly aware of how we’re feeling and what we need in a given moment. Take a few minutes to listen to the song. Listen or read along to the lyrics. Think about the trials and struggles you are experiencing and remember that God knows you – and He is the only one that can provide you true peace and comfort.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsccUg4TDd8

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Stop and Smell the Roses: Three Simple and Nourishing Activities for the Bereaved

After losing a loved one, it’s common to feel disconnected and unattached to reality. Your life may appear to be blurry, as the sights, smells, and noises that were once so familiar now seem very foreign. Since losing a loved one is a traumatic and life changing experience, this type of emotional reaction is completely normal. Your world has shifted, so it makes sense that the way you interact with the world would also change.

However, as normal as these emotions may be, allowing yourself to sink fully into numbness can prevent you from having a healthy grief journey. It’s very important that you reconnect with your senses. Don’t just wander through each day, but embrace every part of it. Use your senses to ground yourself in reality. You’ll find that doing so can bring you great peace and comfort.

This type of lifestyle is easier said than done; however, there are some things you can do to help encourage the full appreciation and acknowledgement of your senses. Keep reading to learn more.

Stop to Smell the Roses - blog

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing has long been known as a soothing exercise. Something about feeling the air enter and escape your body in controlled breaths is a reminder that God is always surrounding you—literally giving you what you need to survive. Feeling your chest move up and down reconnects you with your body and proves how complex and intricate God designed you to be. Breathing also engages your sense of smell. Whether you’re breathing in the familiar scent of your home living room or taking in the fresh outdoor air, taking time to stop and actually notice the smells around you can help place you in a given location and envelope you in comfort and familiarity.

 

Finding Color

While grieving, the world can seem like it’s painted in black and white, both literally and figuratively. When you have a quiet moment, look around you and try to find five different colors. Doing so can remind you of the variety and excitement God has granted you here on earth. Maybe it’s the green leaves on the tree in your front yard, or the deep brown oak of the door in your bedroom. Whatever the case, finding different and exciting colors around you is not only a fun and interesting exercise, but a nurturing way to tap into your sense of sight.

 

Taking Pauses

The best way to truly connect with your senses and reconnect with Christ is to simply take time to pause. When you see something beautiful, stop what you’re doing and really experience it. God gives us precious moments—don’t ignore them! It might be a beautiful morning sunset, the smell of your favorite homemade meal, or the sound of rain against your bedroom window at night. These moments will vary person to person, day to day. It’s up to each and every one of us to find these soft and gentle messages from God and spend time in His presence.

While these are just three simple activities, there are countless ways to fully experience life and live through your senses. Find something that works for you. Find something that can serve as a reminder of God’s presence and love. While there may be trials and times of sorrow in our lives, God is always asking us to stop for a moment, acknowledge His presence, and smell the roses.

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski