Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Secondary Losses

(for K.)

No one just dies, and no one just grieves.  

Grief is complicated. You lose more than the person when someone dies. You lose a network of connections, your foundations are shaken, and you no longer know who are.

Self. You lose part of yourself, because part of you came alive when they were around. You can’t just plug someone new into the hole and go on as before. You choose your friends carefully, and their deaths take chunks of you away. Who are you now?

Home. With a loved one gone, home may feel like a shell. It’s too quiet and empty. If you are taking care of young children as a single parent, there may no longer be any time left to relax, unspool your tightly wound head, and you begin to lose your Zest. You may also give up on Love.

Community. In our society, we don’t like to talk about death, grief, or mourning. So if you thought that a warm community was going to reach out and take care of you in your time of need, you’re probably going to be disappointed. There may be no local group for your kind of loss where you could find Support and Understanding.

Friends. If you’re young, your friends probably don’t know what to say or do to help, so they keep their distance, and it feels like you have lost them. If you’re older, and your spouse or partner has died, your usual invites to the gatherings of couples slow down. Death makes people feel uneasy, as does your anger, despair, and crying. So your personal network of support takes a big hit, and you feel abandoned.

Belief. If your religion says nothing about your grief except to hang in there and trust God, you may begin to drift away from Faith. These admonitions will be helpful later on, but what you need more, in the beginning, is for people to Acknowledge that you are suffering, and to Accept that you are grieving the way that you need. Some religions, like Judaism, do maintain an awareness of death and Rituals to guide your grieving.

Security. This death has probably made you realize that you can die at any time. Without warning. Children with cancer. Mothers walking their kids hit by drunk drivers. People murdered for their passport. Your sense of the world as a safe place disappears. You read the obits in the newspaper and are shocked to discover how many people die before they’re 60 from a variety of causes and accidents.

Innocence When babies are stillborn, when children die of a rare genetic disease, your belief in innocence disappears. Dylan Thomas wrote about this loss when a child died in a bombing in London during World War II.

Trust. This was the big one for me. I grew up trusting life, believing that if I worked hard and took care of others, then Life would uphold it’s part of the agreement and I would have a nice existence. When my wife, the most compassionate person I knew, died suddenly in her 40s of an unknown heart problem, it felt like a Betrayal. Now every day seems like a toss up as to whether goodness or evil will prevail. There are no guarantees.

Fear of the Future
What you have left is a great fear of the future. Every time the phone rings, you think that someone else has died and taken more of your life away Without the support and guidance of people you relied on, you don’t know how you are going to make it through.


All this being said, if you keep sharing when people ask, if you stay connected to people, if you keep searching, and face your fears, and head into the unknown, you will find strangers and a few friends with amazing compassion, and you will survive. This is where your trust always belonged. Not in institutions, but in people. People are the only place where compassion lives.

What secondary matters have you lost?

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