Grieving Secondary Losses
Any significant loss will prompt grief. Whatever the main object of that grief is can be called the primary loss. So for example when a loved one passes away the primary loss is the loved one.
But what’s often hidden from the full conscious awareness of many grievers is that countless secondary losses follow in the wake of the primary loss. All of these secondary losses must be recognized and grieved individually.
Let’s take a loved one passing away. In addition to the concrete person no longer being around, some secondary losses might include, in no particular order, loss of routine, loss of financial security, loss of a relied upon emotional support system, loss of identity, loss of hope, loss of the idea that the world is a fair and just place, loss of shared projects and endeavors, and loss of direction. You can add whatever you want to that list, the possibilities are myriad and unique to the individual situation.
But regardless of the situation the tragic reality is that the primary loss is like being hit by a ton of bricks and all of those secondary losses are like getting kicked repeatedly while down. A sort of vicious cycle of despair is likely to set in where each and every one of those secondary losses strengthens, consciously or unconsciously, the pain of the primary loss.
Our existential point here is that it’s not enough to grieve and say goodbye to the cherished person or object, to grieve the primary loss. All of those secondary losses must be brought fully into conscious awareness and grieved as their own entities of loss too. Until this happens people struck by grief will be likely to remain in a sort of psychic holding pattern where they don’t fully accept that the secondary losses are real and therefore do little to address all those suddenly unmet emotional, psychological, and practical needs.
The opportunity for growth embedded in a situation that feels like nothing but decay is that all of these secondary losses can be thought of as dependencies and not all dependencies are healthy. The sudden loss of all of them, along with the tragic primary loss, can spur intense self-reflection and insights that probably wouldn’t occur in the comfortable routine of daily life. It’s a real chance to take stock of the existential situation. “Why are these secondary losses important to me? Which are most important to me? Can I or should I live without any of them? Were they really making me happy or just comfortable? Was I using any of them as a crutch? Were they furthering or hindering my self-actualization?” These questions probably don’t necessarily have neat answers but if there is a silver lining in grief it’s that the questions are pressing and we feel compelled to answer them. Suddenly there’s a sensed problem that demands a solution where before there was simply barely remarked upon routine. The solution to this problem has the potential to alter the life path in productive ways.