When a Loved One Is Gone Forever, Your Grief Isn't Just One Loss | It's Multiple Tiny Losses That Can Break You Down

When a Loved One Is Gone Forever, Your Grief Isn't Just One Loss | It's Multiple Tiny Losses That Can Break You Down

Never let anyone tell you that you need to stop grieving within a certain time. Every person takes a different amount of time to finally let their heart heal.

Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 17, 2020. It has since been updated.

Losing someone who held a piece of your heart is devastating. Knowing that you will never be able to talk to them again, hold them, or see their face can send you into a grief spiral so intense that you might wonder if you'll ever be able to heal again. And it doesn't help when others mention that time will fix your wounds and pain. Even worse is when people expect you to finish grieving by a certain time as if the heartbreak is on a deadline.


But somewhere, you know you have to move on with life and focus on handling all the other aspects of it that aren't affected by your grief. Yet, it's difficult to do even that because though you might not realize it at first, your first loss of having to say a final goodbye to your beloved isn't the only grief you have to deal with. According to the Center for the Grief Journey, losing your loved one is the primary loss. But the losses that follow and affect you in other ways are known as secondary loss.

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What is a secondary loss?

Jill Morrie writes in Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: "The death of someone we care about is a primary event in our lives, the pebble in our pond. But the experience of loss doesn’t end with the funeral. Instead, the death sets in motion subsequent losses, called secondary losses, that occur as a result of the primary loss, creating a sense that we are losing everything, and that the pain will go on forever."


"Death changes our world, and part of the work of the grieving process is learning how to adjust to a new, assumptive world. The changes death brings are physical, personal, social, spiritual, emotional, and psychological. Death alters our environment to include a defined ending and the demand for a new beginning. One of the new demands placed on the bereaved is to identify the losses that follow the death," she adds.

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So what constitutes a secondary loss?

According to What's Your Grief, these certain changes can be considered as a secondary loss:

1. Loss of income

2. Loss of a home

3. Loss of a business

4. Loss of financial security

5. Loss of relational identity (no longer a husband, wife, parent, sibling, grandparent, etc.)

6. Loss of role as caregiver and life purpose

7. Loss of self-confidence and faith/belief system

8. Loss of goals/dreams that involved the person

9. Loss of a sense of a life shared with another person

10. Distance/loss of unsupportive friends, family of the person who died and community

11. Loss of memories as they begin to fade

12. Loss associated with giving away the belongings of the person

13. The pain of watching others grieve the loss (children, parents)

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Do you ever heal from such a loss?

Much like a primary loss, it takes time to heal from this as well. After all, the fact that you have to keep living when your beloved has passed can make these losses seem more intense and painful. As they unfold over time, you may or may not even realize that you are suffering. And there isn't a surefire way to heal. At most, you can acknowledge the heartbreak that arises and try to cope with it in a way that is comfortable for you. And not everyone understands what it is like to go through this. According to Grief theorist, Ken Doka, this is the kind of grief that people experience "when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

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But you have to try. You owe it not just to the person you lost but to yourself to try and pull yourself together. It will take time but you matter too and as long as you're still breathing, you need to truly live. Even if this is the kind of loss that others don't understand unless they've gone through it themselves, recognizing such behaviors as a loss still matters. That is the only real way you can move on.







Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by KatarzynaBialasiewicz