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  • Writer's pictureVanessa May

Why is grief so complicated?

It's a common misconception that grief is just about the loss of our person. Of course, it goes without saying that this is the biggest, most devastating aspect of grief. However, it may take us by surprise that there are further losses we may also experience.

Vanessa May, author and grief coach

Types of secondary losses experienced in grief

Loss of a future

If you've lost a child or a partner, it can feel as if you don’t have a future to look forward to any more. You grieve what could have been and for all the hopes and plans you had. If a child has died, you have to witness your child’s friends reaching milestones that your child won’t, such as significant birthdays, graduation, getting married, having children, etc. When a partner has died, there is a loss of companionship. Not having someone to share everyday life with, or holidays or significant dates, will inevitably feel very sad, not to mention lonely. 

Loss of the past

This can be felt when you lose a parent, sibling or childhood friend – someone who has, up until now, always been part of your life. You shared your entire past with that person. 

Loss of identity

Who are you if you’re no longer a mother or wife, for example? Our perception of who we are is integral to our sense of wellbeing.

Loss of financial security

If someone loses a partner, a reduced household income may necessitate a return to work before the griever feels ready and may also precipitate a change in lifestyle and in spending habits, including the food they buy, holidays, treats, the replacement of household items, heating the home, etc., in order to accommodate their new financial circumstances. In some cases, it can even mean selling their home.

Loss of friendships

Lack of support from friends is a very common experience in cases of child or partner loss and comes as a surprise to many. These particular losses are most people’s worst nightmare and so they may avoid the bereaved due to their own fear of death and loss. Often people just don’t know what to say; instead, they make the choice to avoid someone who is grieving so they don’t have to feel uncomfortable. From the point of view of the griever, this is very hurtful, exacerbating their pain and sense of isolation.

Loss of family structure

The death of a family member can have a devastating effect upon the family dynamic. It impacts family occasions such as birthdays, weddings, celebrations, family holidays, etc. The loss of the original family structure and dynamic is very destabilizing for all concerned, and its momentous impact as a secondary loss cannot be underestimated. In many cases, because each member of a family will grieve in disparate ways, it can feel as if everyone is on a different page.

Loss of a marriage or partnership

When one partner is grieving and the other isn’t, the non- grieving partner may become impatient, wondering why their partner is grieving beyond the time frame that they feel is appropriate. This can lead to the grieving partner feeling let down. The relationship between bereaved parents can also be affected despite their shared loss, and there are some statistics floating around which suggest divorce rates among bereaved parents are up to 80 per cent. However, in a 2006 study commissioned by The Compassionate Friends, parental divorce following the death of a child was found to be significantly less than that, at around 16 per cent.

Loss of stability

This may be felt particularly with young people who experience the loss of a parent or sibling. Not only do they have their own grief to cope with but they also have to witness the pain of their parents’ grief, too. Widows also report feeling a loss of stability – their partner may have provided a feeling of safety and security that they took for granted. Feeling safe, stable and secure are seen as essential components for good mental health.

Loss of confidence

Grief, especially if the loss was unexpected, can make you feel very vulnerable and shake your self-esteem. You can suddenly feel very unsafe in a world where you now know from experience anything can happen. Everything you thought to be true is thrown into question. 

I write about secondary losses in more detail in 'Supporting Your Grieving Client: A Guide for Wellness Practitioners' and talk about my own experiences of them in 'Love Untethered' 

Have you experienced some of these unanticipated aspects of loss?

If you'd like some support coping with them, then please contact me to find out about how I can help through holistic grief coaching.

Recent reviews for 'Love Untethered':

"The most validating read for any bereaved parent. I bought this book as it was recommended by The Compassionate Friends charity. Please all buy and read this book, if not as a bereaved parent then to give you advice to help a friend or relative navigate their loss and how to live their new life."

"Vanessa’s book has really helped me to keep going through the worst possible time in my entire life. I still dip into it often and have recommended it to family and friends."

If you've kindly taken the time to write an Amazon review, then thank you so much - I can't tell you how much I appreciate this. If you haven't yet, then would you help me reach more of us who have experienced loss? You don't need to have purchased the book from Amazon to leave a review, you can remain anonymous if you prefer, and if you'd rather not write anything then you could perhaps just leave a star rating.

Vanessa May

Holistic Grief Coach & Certified Grief Educator

BANT Nutritional Therapist

ILM accredited Wellbeing Coach

Vanessa May, Holistic Grief Coach and author


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