Friday, January 6, 2012

Secondary Losses

One term that I learned very early on in grief counseling is "secondary losses." These are losses that are secondary to your main loss, but still occur because of your loss. For example, when a person loses their spouse, they don't just lose their husband- they also lose the person who took care of the yard, paid the bills, wrapped the Christmas presents, did the cooking, etc....

I remember the first time they spoke about secondary losses at group counseling and I felt this huge relief wash over me. I had been feeling so many losses but thought it was just me! Truly, for me the secondary losses have been just as hard as losing Caleb. They have turned my whole world upside down and are the reason I have the wind knocked out of me much. The secondary losses also need to be grieved right along with your main loss. It has been good for me to identify these losses when I see them and to grieve each one as they happen.

Some of the secondary losses that I have been grieving at the almost 9 month mark are:

Sunday Church. We decided about a month ago that we needed to go to a new parish on Sundays because mentally and emotionally it was too hard to see all the people we knew with their babies who are around the same age as Caleb. We needed the freedom to be able to worship God without the heaviness of all the obstacles. We will go back to our church some day, but for now we are like sojourners traveling to a different parish each week, trying to avoid the "family" masses, be able to sneak in and out without being noticed. It's very different from before when we looked forward to Sunday mass and seeing all of our friends in the pews next to us.

Our social life. It is non existent right now. We are dealing with so much emotionally with grieving Caleb and getting ready to have another baby in just 8 weeks, that hanging out just isn't something we can do right now. After Caleb died we kind of fell off the face of the Earth when it came to socializing. Most of the people we used to hang out with all have young kids and it was just too hard. So now I sit around on the weekends and try not to get angry that I sometimes feel like a prisoner in my own home. I know its necessary and I also know it won't be forever, but it still stinks.

The innocence of pregnancy. This is a big one. I cannot believe how naive I was about pregnancy before. Now I see it as something to "get through." I cannot do the normal pregnancy things. When people ask me in public about Abigail and her due date and all that, I try to change the subject as quickly as possible. Pregnancy for me brings up the worst wounds and I feel so vulnerable. For me, pregnancy has caused me more pain than I ever imagined and so when people want to act happy about it, I just have to cringe inside. It makes me sad that the innocence is lost. Sad that I cannot buy tons of pink onsies right now and prepare the nursery. All of that was taken from me after Caleb died inside of me. Even something as simple as installing the car seat, which would make most couples excited, brings on a panic attack for me. I remember the car seat being installed and I also remember it being taken out, empty. So, no preparing, no extended conversations about this pregnancy with strangers. Our "birth plan" for Abigail includes talking to our doctors and nurses about post traumatic stress and how to handle it if it should come up in the delivery room. Other than that we really don't care what happens except that she comes out alive.  All of this is such a big loss from a normal person's pregnancy.

Our dream for a big family. We always wanted to have a larger family but now after losing one child, we have our hesitations. We now feel like the decision to try to achieve a pregnancy will carry with it so much weight. For us, getting pregnant also means the reality of burying another child and that is a heavy decision that we will have to take to prayer in the rest of our marriage.  Because pregnancy for us is now so traumatic and demanding (tons more appointments, tons more sonograms, tons more stress and anxiety), each child we would bring into this world now has a new level of discernment. Are we capable of going through another 9 months of constant vigilance, the 2 a.m. wake up calls when I make Nathan get out of bed and check for the baby's heartbeat with the doppler, the 2-3 times a week doctor appointments, the uncertainty of it all?  The emotional and psychological cost of pregnancy is heavy now, not light and carefree as it once was. So maybe a big family is still in store for us, but the decision and discernment that will go into it will be a lot more.

Facebook- a small loss, but still a loss. I deleted my account about 3 weeks after Caleb died. I simply could not see all of the pregnancy pictures, baby pictures, and overall happy comments.  I was so excited to post pictures of Caleb at all his different stages for the world to see and when I couldn't, it was simply too much to watch everyone else still be able to. Sometimes I miss Facebook, but truth be told it actually gives me a lot more free time and decrees the temptation to sins of jealousy, gossip, and envy.

My job- another somewhat small thing in the big picture of life, but still significant. I thought I would be able to go back to teaching after taking about 4 months off. How wrong I was! The emotional toll of grief was just too much. I began having more flashbacks, grief attacks, and anxiety. I simply could not be "on" and in front of a classroom for 8 hours every day like I used to be. It was humbling to finally realize and accept that I could not do my job anymore, but there was no way around it.

My intuition as a mother- I just don't trust my intuition anymore. When your child dies inside of you 10 days before their due date and your body gives you no warning after a perfectly healthy pregnancy, you start to doubt your abilities. I just am constantly checking, double, and triple checking things with this new pregnancy. I can't rely on myself to signal when or if something is wrong. Good thing there are remedies for this- we now have a heart doppler that I listen to about once a day.We are planning on buying a monitor with a video if Abigail arrives alive, and we want to get a SIDS detector thing to put on the baby's mattress to alert you if they stop breathing. Gotta love technology.

Extra Curriculars- Most of the "groups" that I belonged to I can no longer go to. Too many moms, babies, breastfeeding, and that sort of thing. My husband and I also led a Bible Study which we have had to step down from because we couldn't lead it anymore. Every year we have gone on an engagement encounter retreat and given talks to engaged couples. We have had to stop doing that as well. I know some of these might come back, but for now they are gone and that is hard.

The "normal" feeling. I struggle a lot with feeling so abnormal after Caleb's death. We have a nursery all ready to go and have to keep the door shut. Its a weird feeling to walk by a door everyday and know that that room is off limits. Sure we go in there from time to time, but right now its too hard on our hearts to have it open. So, we keep it closed and that just makes me feel weird. We also go to the cemetery like its the grocery store. Decorations for Caleb's grave are always changing and while I love "mothering" him this way (one of the few ways I can) it still feels strange. Other things like my new found love of reading the obituaries and praying for all the families, especially those with an infant loss or looking up Caleb's obituary (its still there- they keep it on record for up to a year- the thought of having both of my children in the paper in 11 months, one because of his obituary and one hopefully to announce her birth is so surreal) just to see his name officially written somewhere- all of these are strange, well strange for someone who hasn't lost a baby  I suppose.  So overall just a loss of any resemblance of "normal" in our lives. Although our grief counselor does always remind us that normal is just a setting on your dryer...

The last one I am struggling with right now is hard. I have lost the ability to enter into other people's pregnancies. I just cannot go there. I don't go to baby showers anymore. I don't send gifts until after the baby comes out alive. Even then its usually a simple target gift card because I can't bring myself to actually step foot back into the baby section and pick a gift out for the baby. If I get birth announcements in the mail I have to throw them away because they cause me too much pain. Its terribly agonizing for me to have to hear other people's labor and delivery stories. I just feel so robbed of the whole thing that hearing others' stories brings back so many hard memories. The loss of being able to celebrate with friends their new gift of life has been VERY humbling, especially because I have always claimed to be a pro-life Catholic who truly believes each life is a gift from our Lord. I still believe that, but just can't enter into it right now.

Overall these are just a FEW of the secondary losses I have experienced and in particular a few that I am dealing with and grieving right now, almost 9 months later.  The beauty in all these losses is it really makes you turn to God in a whole new way. I have hardly any distractions from our Lord. He has really cleared away any underbrush that was in my life.

When I joined FOCUS and became a missionary I feel like God really stripped me of material things. After loosing Caleb, I feel like He is showing me how attached I was to the "RyAnne

Secondary losses are hard and most people don't even know they exist. If you know someone who is grieving, talk to them about these losses. Have compassion on them and understand that losing someone you love is just part of the whole picture of loss. Don't try to understand their secondary losses or why they effect the person so much. Each person's grief is as unique as their fingerprint. Just listen,listen, and listen and be that shoulder for them to cry on.

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