Grieving is hard enough, but having another loss on top of what you already lost is even tougher. This is where secondary loss comes in. In the weeks and months following the death of our beloved pet, we begin to realize or gain a sense that we lost even more than just a family member. Your world was already turned upside down, but then it starts to feel that even more is pulling away from you and everything you were once accustomed to is disappearing and changing.
Death has a snowball effect on us. The loss of our beloved pet, family member, is the ‘primary loss’. But that loss impacts various areas of our lives creating multiple losses, which result in ‘secondary losses’. The snowball of grief and loss keeps growing as it seeps into other areas of our lives.
After losing Chilly...
- I am no longer a dog mom. I became a former dog mom. (Yes, I know I could get another dog, but I am not ready right now).
- I lost my role as his caretaker. I had to adjust all the habits and routines my body’s muscle memory formed in taking care of him 24/7, to give him medicine, watch him, feed him, love him, etc.
- I lost nods, smiles, and comments from strangers who loved seeing Chilly in the park or on our walks in the city.
- I lost being part of an unstated automatic membership in the pet parent community.
All of the above mentioned is huge. As humans, we tie so much of who we are to our identities. We link our self-esteem, confidence, habits, beliefs, values, and our purpose to our identities. So adjusting to the secondary loss is difficult, especially having to re-evaluate and re-define our purpose, habits, and beliefs.
The secondary losses have greatly affected me. I had Chilly for almost 17 years, so there is a lot of change and adjustment that I am experiencing on top of grieving the loss of him. I loved being his mom, it gave me purpose beyond my other roles in life. It gave Sumit and I parenting roles that we enjoyed, and it created a family unit that we cherished and loved. We aren’t ready yet to re-create that and know it’s always an option. But until then, I’m working through this empty hole feeling inside of me, that I believe exists because of the secondary losses from his death.
I’m sure many of you who have lost pets can relate to what I am sharing in this post. And for those who have not lost a pet, it is good to be aware of these secondary losses. Understanding secondary loss exists and may arise at various times throughout the grieving process can help us when we are caught off-guard by a new feeling of sadness or pain. I addressed a few types of secondary losses above, but there can be more as each of our situations are different. There is little we can do about this, as secondary losses are normal and part of the grieving journey. Acceptance and patience are key. I provide tips on ways to cope with losing your pet here. And encourage everyone to create a free online memorial, as they can be therapeutic for you as you grieve the loss of your pet.
I hope you understand and are now aware of secondary losses, and this helps you through your grieving journey. If you found this helpful, please share with someone who may be struggling and could benefit from reading this.