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.
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.
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.
Somehow secondary losses hardly feel secondary....it 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