When Dan died, we lost a hundred other things too.
Our grief isn’t just for missing him.
His death touched every single part of life. From the way we do dinner around the table to the rhythm of our calendar.
As the weeks wore on after his death, I slowly realized the full extent of loss.
The secondary losses in grief part of what make grief so tenacious, so pervasive as it upends normal in every part of life.
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I made a list yesterday of the secondary losses for a young widow. My list might look a bit different than yours if you are grieving the death of a child, pregnancy loss, a divorce, a relationship, an adult child who’s living.
Secondary Losses in Grief
None of us get a pass from the secondary losses in grief.
Here are some of the secondary losses in grief:
1.Loss of co-parent – his energy to roughhouse with the boys, his help in the nighttime routine, the way you divided and conquered all the lessons and parent meetings and the way only he could disciple and discipline and love your children.
2. Loss of income – sometimes it’s the primary income right as you’re starting a family and the income you counted on to raise kids, pay bills and prepare for retirement years.
3. Loss of confidante – he knew you best. He knew how you tick, your passions, your fears, your tender spots and he was trustworthy in all of it.
4. Loss of youth – the day Dan died I felt like I aged a few decades. I went from mom of young kids to widow, the same age in years but decades older in life experience.
5. Loss of normal – every single part of life we were used to changed, from the boxes we checked on forms to the responsibilities we now had in the house.
6. Loss of routine – no kiss before he headed to work in the dark, no back door swinging open at the end of the day, no truck in the driveway, or mowing on the weekends, or driving us to church on Sunday.
7. Loss of traditions – the camping trip he took the kids on every summer, walking his daughters down the aisle, teaching his boys how to dress a deer or filet a fish or fix a leaking pipe.
8. Loss of couple friends – I am lucky. My friends have been incredible but there is the loss of going out as couples, having other families over and hanging out with old friends we grew up with.
9. Loss of anniversaries – man we worked hard at marriage. We’d married young and we looked forward to our 30th, 40th, 50th. Friends have passed us up and every celebration is a reminder of what we lost.
10. Loss of expected future – when Dan died, the future wasn’t just blank. It was a drop-off; a black hole I couldn’t begin to imagine.
11. Loss of identity – I loved being a wife. I miss being a wife.
12. Loss of shared past – I’d dated Dan since I was 16. I watched his brothers grow up and he watched mine. We’d been through high school, then college, then law school, first jobs, pregnancies, babies, surgeries, challenges, changes and so much together. The one who knows me best and experienced it with me is gone.
13. Loss of financial security – the loss of income, sometimes the sole income, creates a loss of financial security.
14. Loss of physical security – there’s often fear that comes from being home alone at night or traveling alone.
15. Loss of plans – every spoken and unspoken plan died with Dan from the next day’s agenda to next year’s vacation to next steps in our family.
16. Loss of children’s innocence – I watched my 6-year-old grow up overnight. I watched tween and teen boys do men’s work around the house. I watched my older two take on responsibility and worries they shouldn’t have carried and I have grieved their loss of innocence.
17. Loss for children – part of my grief has been grieving FOR my children. Grieving their incredible loss and not being able to fix their pain.
18. Loss of his friends – this is a natural part of the shift but I miss his friends and seeing him with his friends.
19. Loss of his colleague – here, too, I’ve been lucky because Dan worked with an amazing company that continues to include us in Christmas parties and reach out to our family in many ways. I miss hearing the day-to-day of what’s going on at his office, of how his company was growing and seeing all that his company accomplished.
20. Loss of his family – we have not lost Dan’s family but I hear from too many young widows that family relationships can become strained.
21. Loss of his dreams – oh, how I have grieved not seeing Dan walk out all the dreams he had.
22. Loss of his strengths – how I have missed the strengths he brought to our marriage, our family, parenting. The gap is so clear.
23. Loss of inside jokes – this may seem small but every time I start to say an inside joke or think of one we’d often trade, there’s a missing. We built a lifetime of things we got.
24. Loss of intimacy – marriage to your best friend is the best intimacy.
25. Loss of greatest emotional support.
26. Loss of biggest cheerleader.
27. Loss of home – we have not lost our home, but again, I know many widows who have gone through not only the excruciating pain of loss but the uprooting that comes from having to move.
But that’s not the end of the story.
When we grieve with God and with HOPE, loss doesn’t get the last word.
After making this list of secondary losses, I realized there’s another important list.
An even more important list.
Because while loss has been great, God has been greater.
This is the list of the lessons learned in loss – gifts that have come through suffering.
These are lessons in life that have come at a high cost, but lessons I’d never give back.
They’ve reshaped me in the best way.
I’d encourage you, if you’re grieving, to make a list of your losses. Acknowledge them and realize the extent and depth of your loss.
But then make that second list. Make a list of life lessons you’ve learned through grief.
Because hearts broken open through suffering are hearts ready to be reshaped by God.
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