Somewhere early into the second year following my husband Bill's death, the gut wrenching pain of losing him took on an additional layer. The pain that permeated my entire being in those early months seemed to weigh a ton and felt like it had ripped my heart from my chest. By the second year I began to experience what are called "secondary losses" making the second year more difficult than I ever dreamed it would be. These secondary losses had been there all along but I paid little to no attention to them because I was lost in the fog and gut-wrenching pain of Bill's death as it demanded all of my attention and energy. I was in survival mode.
As that fog lifted, I began to recognize these secondary losses; things like how long and lonely a Monday evening was, something I never felt when Bill was here even if he was not home. Others include/d figuring out who might want to go to a movie; eating alone in restaurants more often; learning how to rewire a lamp and sobbing when what I did worked; calling someone to bring soup when I had pneumonia twice in 14 months or someone to assist me when I tore my rotator cuff and broke fingers in a fall. They did not end there. I had to deal with financial strain with the loss of half of our income and car repairs that I never gave thought to before. There was no one to share a symphony with, a special someone who is also moved to tears by the same composer and no longer did I have an "automatic" companion to go anywhere with. Then there was talking over household concerns with the person equally invested in the house and of course no longer did I have a vacation partner, one I really wanted to be with. This list could go on forever and new secondary losses still appear unexpectedly and frequently. I soon learned that as lovely and caring as my friends are, they each have a life of their own, most of them shared, if not with a spouse or partner, with adult children, grandchildren or other extended family in the area. I am not the first one to pop into their minds upon awakening as I was with Bill. And was Bill I wanted to be with anyway. I was no longer first in anyone's life.
How well I remember seeing an Allegro Bay motor home drive past our home about two weeks after Bill died and all but turning to tell him about it so we could share the memories of our two year adventure traveling around North America in our own Allegro Bay. When Bentley, our Golden Retriever, swallowed a razor blade shortly after Bill died, as much as others cared about him, it was me who sat waiting all but traumatized as he underwent surgery. It was me who feared losing him. And it was me, alone, who took him to classes until he passed the test to be a registered therapy dog, something Bill and I planned to do together. If I sit here long enough, I could easily pull up hundreds of these moments, moments of secondary loss that lead to pain. And if I do that, I will be sitting in a very large puddle of tears.
Any of you who are reading this and have lost a spouse you loved deeply, understand every word of this. Those of you who have not experienced a significant loss cannot and will not understand until you do. Trust me on that one. I thought I "got it" but I didn't...until Bill died.

In addition to secondary losses there are also grief triggers which I see as a form of secondary loss. Just recently I was driving home from Chicago and pulled off the road at Exit 99 for a pit stop and a diet Coke, something Bill and I did on every trip to Chicago. It was lonely as I sat in the same parking place, under the same tree he and I sat beneath so many times. That tree and that parking space were grief triggers, things and events (small or gigantic) that catch us off guard. It is hearing a song that we both loved and feeling the tears roll down my face. Little things that happen every day bring back memories and often create a moment or an hour of sadness that no one else on the planet would understand. These happen even when we bereaved are with a group of people or when we are home alone. They are grief triggers and they do not seem to go away, at least not so far.
The bereaved deal with these over and over again. It seems to be of no use to share most of these with someone who cannot possibly comprehend the meaning or significance but sometimes I will share one and am pleasantly surprised when I feel heard. How comforting! Returning to Door County is not something I will do soon for it was a special place for us and I can only imagine the grief triggers that await me there. It is like walking a mine field, never knowing what will cause tears to erupt.
Let's face it, life is bittersweet for most people but for those grieving the loss of someone who was a very part of their entire being, life, hopes and dreams; someone who was there when you woke up and there when you went to sleep at night it is often beyond bittersweet. Missing someone who shared the good moments and the tough moments, who worried about the same things you worry about is difficult to say the least. Any of you who have lost a dearly beloved spouse get this and those who have not lost a beloved spouse or a person who is very significant in your life, especially a child, cannot fully comprehend how life altering this loss really is.

Somehow secondary losses hardly feel all feels like one gigantic loss with billions of pieces surrounding and engulfing the death of the one you love so deeply. With supportive friends who listen, with patience and acceptance of where we are on the journey, by educating ourselves about grief, and by holding on to a determination to heal...we make it. We create new lives. We do it slowly and with great awareness as carrying our grief becomes a bit easier month by month and year by year.

Related to: grief triggers, general grief, secondary losses


Anne M Gorman
04/27/2014 9:23am

Thank you, Mary, for this piece today. As I approach my second year without my soulmate of forty years it helps me to know that these "triggers", when they come, do pass.
I am on the road to creating my 'new' life and it is so painful doing it without my beloved spouse.
I am learning that it is a part of my healing to be heard.

04/27/2014 9:41am

Anne, thank you. Yes, the second anniversary approaches and yes, the triggers come and they go. I know how difficult the journey has been for you and so many others and I agree being heard is critical to our healing.

04/27/2014 10:25am

Beautiful, Mary ~ because it comes straight from your heart, and from your own experience. Thank you! (I've added a link to your post at the base of my own on a similar topic, "Grief In The Second Year: Finding Your Way," here: ) ♥

04/27/2014 2:13pm

Thank you so much, Marty. Yes, straight from my heart and experience. Thanks also for adding my post to your site.

04/27/2014 10:47am

Dear Mary,
Thank you for sharing some very tender feelings and moments here. I don't think people who have yet to experience such a profound loss can "get it" about all the secondary losses that feel as though they are more layers, more pieces, wrapped up and around the original loss. I know I am not ready to go many places yet that were special to Doug and me. Maybe someday, but not yet. Your writing touched my heart, and even as I move into this third year, I still find so many triggers that send me into tears and painful longing.
Thank you.

04/27/2014 2:15pm

I do understand, iloilo. Just today I was in the grocery store and noticed Bill's favorite brand of shrimp sauce and tears filled my eyes...not just because of it being his favorite sauce but because of the myriad of memories attached to even a simple bottle of shrimp sauce. Peace, Mary

Jan Crowther
04/28/2014 1:30am

Mary, this expresses so much of what my life is like now without my beloved Pete. It's why we can never 'get over it' because everything we knew has gone. The life we had has been totally wrecked. Ok we have to carry on, and sometimes sharing those awful secondary losses (which don't feel secondary because they aren't) does help a little bit. Sometimes I feel I am stepping through a mine field littered with potential pain, which ambushes me. Tidying our garage yesterday was a case in point. All the cans and bottles were 'men's stuff' to do jobs that were Pete's part of our life. I could hardly bear to lift one and put it back or throw it out. The pain was almost physical. How do we do it? I don't know. We just do.

04/28/2014 7:26am

Dear Jan, Thank you for your comments. Yes, I understand the mine field of which you speak. I do believe those mines get further and further apart and are less potent as we walk through our days and do our "grief work". It is all unique to each person, of time schedule. I know you miss Pete so much as I miss Bill. Peace, Mary

04/28/2014 11:46am

Mary, I never thought of these as "secondary" although I know they are called that. More triggers, surprisingly small things sometimes or big things such as memories of my father's death or dreams of searching for Vic. These gave me reasons for more tears. I resonate with the idea of trying to do things with others and only feeling a longing for Bill. Only time helped me with this one--and I still would rather be with Vic.
This post is healing affirmation for the experiences that make us scold ourselves.
Thank you,

04/28/2014 2:24pm

Yes, Elaine, as much as I cherish my friends, being with Bill (as you know from being with Vic) was a whole different ball game. I could be totally me with Bill where as there are few friends with whom I can be "that Mary". It is just not the same being with friends as much as I love them and they love me. There must be no scolding of ourselves when we are walking such a tough journey...truly. And yes, I do that also.

05/04/2014 8:40am

Thank you Mary for this beautiful piece. While I have not lost a spouse, my daughter, Margareta, had just turned four when she died suddenly in an accident. Still a toddler, she had been my constant companion four four years, and the void it left was/is tourture. I've never heard the term "secondary losses" before, but it describes the same experience I had. The second year was when reality hit and the finality of her death became palpable. At four and a half years after her death, I still feel triggers more often than I'd like, but I am better equipped to deal with them now. Wishing you peace, Maria

05/04/2014 8:54am

Dear Maria, I have read some of your beautiful writings and yes, everything I said certainly applies to any significant loss. I can only imagine the pain of losing your little Margareta. As with you waking up in year two was a year of facing reality for me also. And like you it has been just over four years since Bill died and yes, the triggers and ups and downs continue. We do get better at dealing with them but grief goes on. I wish you peace also as your continue to heal and as you face each day without her.

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