What is Secondary Grief?

Abby EmbryUncategorized

I feel many can agree that right now the passing of time feels…different. Today is the first day of June. For some, this is week 11 of strict social distancing and isolation during this pandemic. Even in our isolation we should take time to acknowledge that Spring has come! The honeysuckle buds are beginning to fall along with their sweet scent. The sounds of nature are shifting to a different melody. Today, I encourage you to continue to reach out in creative ways to find the support you need as we work to navigate and tread the waters in this fluid, changed world.

To parallel our months into this pandemic, the flow of time in grief is similarly disorienting. How does time seem to move incredibly slow, but also much too fast? At times when we are deep into our emotions, down in “the pit” of our memories of our loved ones, and our processing of our grief, time can seem to stand still. Yet, in marking the time from when our grief story began; it can seem as if those moments are slipping away from you too fast. How do we grasp all the memories we wish to treasure, and those that hurt and still need our attention, when time continues to move further and further away?

I recall that in my own grief journeys I had a peculiar feeling of wanting to “hold on” to every moment I could recall in those final days of my loved ones. I journaled some of those moments, but even that task seemed overwhelming. As time moved away, I remembered less of the details, the feelings, and the sensory information on which I had longed to keep a tight grasp. I wanted to hold onto those memories, hoping they would give me a clue as to how to cope, or maybe some understanding or consolation.

Time in grief is “punctuated” by moments in which your mind and your heart make meaning of your experience. There are mental revelations you cannot have too soon or too late, they come at exactly the right time. Some of these moments, or punctuation hurt, sometimes they make you laugh loudly or cry deeply. When they hurt badly, you may think they are “unhealthy” or begin to shame yourself, as if you can grieve the wrong way, or backwards. Just because it hurts, does not mean it is wrong, or unhealthy, or that you are backsliding. These punctuations are timely and necessary moments of meaning-making in the grief experience.

One form of these moments may come when we begin to recognize our “Secondary Losses.” The word “secondary” is not meant to imply that they are inferior to the primary grief you have experienced. It is only meant to say they come after your primary loss. These are types of grief that you might not anticipate, and they are specific only to you. In recognizing these losses, you can anticipate what kind of support you need, and to normalize how you are feeling. Some common secondary losses fall into categories like: Loss of Relationship/s, loss of financial security, loss of parts of your identity, loss of routine, loss of dreams for the future, and loss of trust. These are only a few examples, but within each of these groups are the secondary losses that are specific only to you. Grief work is working to recognize and name these losses. You do not need to do this work alone. This is where good friends, counselors, chaplains, and family can help you to reflect on your experience and add their perspectives.

During tomorrow’s group, space will be given to brainstorm these secondary losses with one another. Bring pencil and paper and we will create a Venn diagram of these in the last 30 minutes of our discussion. This can serve as a visual to mark time in your grief. I encourage participants to place this diagram somewhere in your house that you will look at it in the coming months and reflect on your grief journey and the power that time (and good support) can have in your journey.

Join me for our Touchpoint group on Tuesday at 2 PM. It generally lasts about one and a half hours.

Click the link below for more information on how to join us, everyone is welcome, no registration required.If you would like to schedule one-on-one support with me via Zoom, please email me at bereavement@williamsburghospice.org

https://mailchi.mp/7a65a64d9bef/virtualsupportgroup

Abby Embry
Chaplaincy Director

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