While literature and articles about the stages of grief exist, secondary loss is a topic that often gets overlooked.
Despite one’s educational, financial, religious or familial background, grief problems are incredibly challenging to cope with, and handling the issues that stem from loss are often just as painful and stressful.
These additional situations that arise are often referred to as secondary losses.
The primary loss means the death. Anything that happens as a result of this central loss is considered secondary.
For example, once one’s partner dies, if there is a significant shift in the household income because there is only one wage earner, the financial loss is the secondary loss.
Other common secondary losses associated with death are loss of home, friendships, medical coverage, job, and relationships with family.
Even subtle changes are still losses. For instance, if a surviving partner has to switch health care coverage post-loss but the deductible is higher or the coverage is not exactly the same — even though they may still have health care — this is still considered a loss.
In doing research for my book, “A Widow’s Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice For the First 5 Years,” my co-author psychologist James Windell and I interviewed more than 100 widows about their experiences.
The widows' ages and socioeconomic status varied, as did the causes of their husbands' deaths. In listening to the widows, what struck me was that for them, learning healthy ways to cope with the secondary losses were just as challenging and painful as their partner’s death.
For many widows, their partner was their “go-to person” who would help them deal with all troubling matters whether it be practical in nature — such as changes in insurance policies — or emotional — such as relationship pressures.
Not having this input from their partners on how to handle these secondary losses adds a deeper dimension to their grief. It makes them feel even more isolated.