How am I Learning to Identify and Grieve My Secondary Losses?

We naturally think of grief only as death-oriented, solely the grief of losing our spouses or someone we deeply care for.

Our grief is also the pain of the other losses we encounter because of our loved ones’ death. These losses are secondary results of the primary loss.

In the weeks that followed Chidinma’s death, I stumbled across some resources which helped me identify my secondary losses.

I will take you on a journey through some of my secondary losses and share with you how you can identify your secondary losses.

In the next few days, I will take a deeper dive by publishing a compressive guide in the resource section on the other types of loss a bereaved person can experience after the death of a loved one.

Let me try to explain what I mean by this.

What are secondary losses?

Have you ever thrown a large rock into a pond or river and watched what happened next?

Have you also ever wondered why the big splash?

When you throw a rock in a river, what you are likely to see is that it drives water out of the way, creating a ripple that travels away from where it fell.

When the rock sinks deeper into the river, the water at the surface surges back to fill the gap left behind.

The water flows back too enthusiastically, causing a splash—and the larger the rock, the larger the splash.

The splash then causes even more ripples, which appear to travel away from where the rock went into the water.

The effect would cause the ripples to flow outward. These ripples often go on and on, even after the large rock has sunk.

This single occurrence of a rock dropping into the water affects all that is around it with compound, substantial, and encompassing ripples.

The death of a loved one also has the same ripple effect on the bereaved person, which causes a disruption that travels across time and space.

When Chidinma died, it felt like I had lost everything. I felt that well-intentioned people missed the point when they attempted to paint a silver lining.

I felt I was losing everything and that the pain will go on forever.

This is because we lose a lot of different things as a result of our loved ones’ death.

There can be many secondary losses following the death of our loved ones, and we must identify the many secondary losses associated with the death and grieve each one.

Below are some examples of secondary losses:

Loss of life partner/kind-hearted ear/ gist partner.

Chidinma was my ‘personal person’. She was like the sugar in my tea, the egg on my ‘Agege-bread.’

My “go-to” person. We had conversations throughout the day through Facetime, texts, phone calls. The first person I will speak with about good news, bad news.

When I am browsing on Instagram, most of the time I find dancing or Igbo-related clips because Chidinma loved dancing and anything Igbo.

I will share these clips with her and sometimes she would find some Yoruba-related ones and say things like ‘Tee, come and see your Yoruba people o.’

There’s just something about the way she responds that has a tickle and has a calming effect on me. (Please don’t say ‘mumu-button’)

Loss of travel companion

We were stuck like chewing gum. We went almost everywhere together. No place was too short or too far for us to travel together.

Our travel times also doubled as our catchup time, playtime, learning together time, etc.

Loss of Family structure/ shared household chores and duties

The instant shift in the family's makeup. We had taken up different household chores. Finding that I have to do it all had an overwhelming sensation.

There has been a drastic shift in the immediate family. There is no other adult in the household except the spouses.

One of the heartbreaking reminders that I had in the early days and weeks of grief and sometimes still have is when I can’t say “go to your mother” to our children.

Loss of income and financial security

At times like these, no one wants to think about money. But the sad fact is that life continues, and the bills have to be paid. As new parents, we had shared costs.

You can imagine the additional thoughts and stress in finding out how we manage finances now that Chidinma is no longer here.

This largely made me wonder what the future was going to look like without her.

Loss of physical and emotional intimacy

This secondary loss isn’t limited to physical and sexual intimacy alone, but for me included losing the person I get to hug and hold hands with.

We enjoyed locking hands, and I would tease her about the texture of her palms. I shared stuff with her that I couldn’t share with anybody else.

Her death also meant losing the only person who I felt really knew me and accepted me the way I am.

Loss of the past

Being unable to share memories of the past with Chidinma. There will be no “babey, remember when…...”

Loss of future/plans

This secondary loss includes the wish to live happily ever after, growing old together, having more children together, celebrating the birthdays/graduations/marriages and other milestones of our children, to name a few.

Perhaps this is the one that best explains why the grief is still with us long after the death of our loved ones.

When we think about our future, we always expect our loved ones to be part of it.

And every day and every occasion and every wedding and holiday and new baby birth passes is a reminder of what our loved one is meant to be here for and isn't.

There are more secondary losses to explore, such as loss of faith, loss of connection to other family and friends, loss of traditions, loss of identity, loss of life purpose, loss of confidence, to name a few.

In identifying and grieving for each of secondary losses, I have been able to accept that the hard times I am experiencing are because every part of my life has been affected by the death of Chidinma.

I am learning to accept that it’s okay, and it’s natural when I find myself overwhelmed with grief either when I am presented with a bowl of noodles or when I am changing nappy or when we are taking a walk to name a few.

I am grieving an unimaginable loss.

Every trigger and reminders are only a reflection of the fact that I shared my life, my love, and heart with Chidinma.

Indeed, these times and these triggers are painful, I am learning to use them as reminders of the deep affections that Chidinma and I shared.

The following are steps you also may need to consider:

  1. A huge step towards grief healing is to acknowledge these secondary losses and their impact.

  2. After identifying the impact of the secondary losses, the next step is to mourn and take actions to adapt to these losses.

  3. Next will be considering other tools that may be helpful to you in coping with your grief, which eventually gives you a sense of comfort.

I will share deeper details in the article due to be released in the next couple of days within the resource section of the website.

The article will include a sneak peek into my journal through the form of a downloadable worksheet with questions that I am using to identify my secondary losses which I hope will also help you identify the secondary losses which you may encounter on your grief journey.

Healing from grief takes time and patience. It cannot be rushed.

There have been times I have made an attempt to rush my grief, only to find myself back at the beginning.

I am also finding that shortcuts reroute you back to where you started from.

I sincerely hope that this post and the article can help all grieving people, friends and relatives to have better understanding why nothing can replace the grieving process.

Awareness of the many secondary losses that can follow the death of a loved one can allow the bereaved person and the support network to become more grief friendly and sensitive as we all learn to navigate a new world, chart a new path as we embark on our pioneering journey to our future life.

To Be Continued Next Wednesday...

I would like to hear from you. Would you please share your thoughts, comments and reflections below. Thank you.