Child Loss and Secondary Losses

While I certainly had no real idea in the first hours or even weeks what losing a child entailed, I understood plainly that it meant I would not have Dominic to see, hold or talk to.

I wouldn’t be able to hug his neck or telephone him.  

He wouldn’t be sitting at my table any more.

But the death of a child or other loved one has a ripple effect.  It impacts parts of life you might not expect.  As time went on, I was introduced to a whole list of losses commonly called “secondary losses”.

secondary losses

Here are just a few:

Loss of a large chunk of “self”.  Dominic possessed part of my heart and part of my life.  It was violently ripped away when he died.  There is part of me that was uniquely reflected from him-like a specialty mirror.  I can never access that part of me again.

Loss of identity.  Before Dominic died I was one kind of mother.  I was a mother of four living children who were making their way in the world as successful adults.  I was a mother looking forward with happy anticipation to the next years.  Now I am still a mother of four children but one whose heart has been changed by tragedy and sorrow. Tomorrow is still bright, but there’s a shadow just behind it.

desimones uab family

Loss of self-confidence.  I used to enter a room without a thought to how I’d be received or perceived.  That’s definitely not the case now.  I’m self-conscious-constantly wondering if I’m saying or doing the right thing.  I never know if a grief trigger will (at best) pull my attention away from conversation or (at worst) send me scurrying for the bathroom.

Loss of sense of security.  I think every parent has moments of fear over his or her child.  When they first go off someplace without us, when they get a driver’s license, travel abroad, go to college.  But all the awful things I imagined didn’t hold a candle to the reality of waking one morning to a knock on my door and the news that Dominic had been killed.  The bottom fell out of my (relatively) safe world.  Bad things, random things can and do happen.  Once it happened to ME, it changed how I processed everything.  The passing years have softened some of the anxiety but I will never be able to assume safety again.


Loss of faith.  I did not “lose” my faith.  I never once doubted that God was still working, was still loving and was still in control.  But I most certainly had to drag out every single thing I thought I knew about how I thought He worked, loved and superintended the world and examine it in light of my experience of burying my son.  It took a long time to work through all the pat answers I had been offered and myself doled out to others for years that didn’t fit with my new reality.  I am learning that doubt is not denial and that I have to live with unanswered questions.

Loss of family structure.  I’ve written before that a family is more than the arithmetic total of the number of members.  There were six of us.  But we were so much more than six when we were all together!  Our talents, personalities and energy were amplified in community.  When Dominic’s large presence was suddenly whisked away, every relationship got skewed.  We’ve fought our way back to a semblance of “whole” but still miss him terribly.  We can function, but we will never be the same.

empty chair

Loss of my past.  Memories are funny things.  They are plastic and subject to change.  And my recall of an event is limited to my own perspective.  For a memory to be rich and full, I need input from others who were there as well.  One vessel of family memories is no longer available to add his unique contribution.  Every time I pull out a photo or dig down deep in my heart to draw up a treasured moment, I realize I’ve lost something I can not recover.  The joke, the glance, the odd detail are all gone.

Loss of the future I anticipated.  I’m a planner by nature.  Not a detailed, OCD, got-everything-in-order kind of planner, but a “big picture” kind of planner.  When Dominic left us in 2014, things were going (pretty much) according to plan.  Each child was well on his or her way to the career path they had chosen.  I was easing into an empty nest and exploring options for life after homeschooling.  My husband was entering his last few years of a lengthy career.  It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, but when your world is shaken by child loss, everything gets scrambled.  You can’t just pick up where you left off and keep going with the pieces that remain. 

There’s a prolonged period of confusion and everyone is impacted differently and in ways you could never imagine.  All of us have changed dramatically in the years since Dominic left us.  He is not the only thing missing from the rest of our lives.  Holidays are altered.  Birthdays are different.  We have to plan special events around uncomfortable milestone dates that roll around every year whether we want them to or not.  It’s a constant readjustment to life as it IS instead of life as I thought it WOULD be.

Loss of ability to focus and function.  Oh, how this surprised me!  I was in some kind of zone for the first month after Dominic left.  My other children were home, we had to make it through planning his funeral, two graduations and cleaning out his apartment.  I also had to handle paperwork for my husband to take short-term disability due to grief.  I cried a lot, wrote down dozens of notes but managed to do what I had to do.  Then I crashed. I couldn’t remember a thing.  I couldn’t read more than a couple sentences at a time.  I hated the telephone.  I could barely stand to hear the television.  I had to make a list of the most basic things like brushing my teeth, feeding my animals, turning off all the lights before bed.  It was awful!  And it didn’t really get better for well over a year.

I still suffer from a very short attention span, low tolerance for noise and an inability to accommodate last minute changes.  I don’t schedule anything back to back.  I live in a rural area and sometimes shop in the nearby town.  I will start the day with a long list and shorten it repeatedly as I go along because driving in traffic, crowds and random sounds ramp up my anxiety and make me want to go home with or without what I came for.  I have changed the way I do so many things.  My pre-loss memory has never returned.  


Loss of patience.  I am at once impatient and long-suffering.  I have zero patience for petty grievances, whining and complaining.  Yet I have compassion for other people living hard and unhappy stories.  I berate myself for not being “better” and, at the same time, extend grace to others who aren’t “better” either.  I want to shake people who bowl over weak, hurting, desperate souls.   I don’t have time for moaning about rain when you were planning a picnic but will listen for hours to a mama tell me about her missing child.

Loss of health.  I had a number of chronic health conditions before Dominic ran ahead.  Within the first year of his departure, I was hospitalized twice.  My experience is not unique.  Some parents suffer immediate health effects (heart attack, blood sugar spikes, anxiety/depression) and some see a slow decline over time.  In part because child loss, like any stressor, will negatively impact health and also because sometimes bereaved parents stop doing the things that help them stay healthy.  At almost five years, I’ve learned how to manage the stress better although some of my health issues continue to get worse.  It’s hard to tease apart what is age, what is disease and what is grief.

When your child leaves this life before you do, it changes everything.  

Not only things you might expect, but many you’d never imagine.  

It’s a constant balancing act, readjusting every day to new challenges.  

Struggling to keep my head above the waves.  

grief like the ocean learn to swim



Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

25 thoughts on “Child Loss and Secondary Losses”

  1. I think the one thing you missed, is “loss of relationships”, which is another thing to grieve. I had “friends” of over 30 years come to my house, help with the celebration of life, comfort me. And within a year I never heard from them. I would text, leave messages (as they never picked up when I called). I at least TRIED. These were the people I considered my “best friends”. I would ask them if I did something to offend them, as we all know that first week, especially is horrendous. IF they responded, they would say no and just say they’ve been “busy”. I’ve had to grieve these friendships, along with grieving Ethan. At the same time, I was also guardian for my brother who had Lewy bodies Dementia,and my aging mother, who lived with us, but was in the hospital when Ethan died. My sisters made things worse and I suspect one of them had to do with the loss of some of the friendships.


  2. Loss has an extensive ripple effect—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends are all affected in some way. Parents and siblings are those deep ripples closest to the center, but everyone who loved and cared are impacted, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for your post. Youn put into words what I have been fee3ling but don’t know how to say. It’s been almost 15 years since I lost my son Timothy. Being a single mom I never got to grieve. I had 3 other other children who needed me. No one truly understands how this changes your life unless they bhave been thru it. You wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And you feel it all over again each time you hear of someone else who has lost their child.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As always, you are spot-on. The entire article pertains to everything that I’m experiencing. You summed it up perfectly – STRUGGLING TO KEEP MY HEAD ABOVE THE WAVES. It’s a constant struggle. Even the “good days” are difficult and will be until I’m called home.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Im not in good health either the day before my sons funeral i went into icu a friend come to get me and take me to the funeral the drs was against that but i went anyway when i got to the church i was in another world they helped me in the church and to kennys casket well i got to where i couldnt breath good so i was having to leave to go back to hospital but before i left my precious grands came and hugged and loved on me then i was taken back to hospital i missed my sons funeral what mother does that i have a dvd of the funeral but havent watched it i have been out of my mind for the last 16 months probably for the last 24 years since i lost my 1st child and 10 on my second child thanks for everything you post cause they are people in the same condition im in im behind on reading your post


  6. Thank you so much for all the understanding and support I have derived from your writing. You articulate beautifully what we all experience and feel…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Managing is the word I like to use. I have to learn how to manage myself all over again. Things I use to do one way, I have to do another way now, as you so well explained. Things I use to not even give second thought to are now at the top of the list. Other things, who cares. My faith never left me, but it has been blown away as I described in my blog, the house built by faith : nuked. At only 3 years, I can’t tell you what has happened to it but it’s all changed. Attending church regularly is one thing I could point to. Nice write up, thank you. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for this Melanie. You have summed up a part of our grief so unknown to those who have not experienced the loss of a child. These secondary losses have been plaguing me. Your article helps me to identify them and make a little more sense of where I am in this land of grief. Lisa

    On Fri, Feb 1, 2019 at 1:36 AM thelifeididntchoose wrote:

    > Melanie posted: “While I certainly had no real idea in the first hours or > even weeks what losing a child entailed, I understood plainly that it meant > I would not have Dominic to see, hold or talk to. I wouldn’t be able to hug > his neck or telephone him. He wouldn’t be” >

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am 9 months in my journey and my health has suffered and I was rushed by ambulance after i passed out in the bathroom. i think its the grief. I am not focused, i forget a lot, i get confused sometimes. In short, I am not me anymore. I am trying to do some crafts to keep busy. I made ribbons for Christmas, didnt put ornaments on the tree but put the tree up, didnt bake, and took 2 naps on Christmas day. I am all inside out.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are welcome to share any post with any one. I ask that you share from the blog using the social media buttons at bottom (if you are sharing to a social media platform) or, if you’d like to print and distribute, please print the post in its entirety and include the website on the printout.

      In the past, some folks have copy/pasted content and it has gotten out and away from me. That was hurtful. Since this is my way of redeeming the pain and sorrow of child loss and honoring my son, I ask that the content always be clearly attributable to thelifeididntchoose. Thank you for asking!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Prayers you you and your family! Every Mothers worst nightmare! We all need to live for today, tomorrow is never promised! Sending healing thoughts and hopefully better days ahead! Thank you for sharing your story!


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