Understanding WHAT we are Losing in this Pandemic

When someone experiences any significant life loss, whether sudden, tragic or anticipated, that event often triggers many other subsequent losses. We distinguish these as “Primary and Secondary losses”.

“Primary loss” describes any significant loss that affects someone’s life. It can be a death, an illness, a divorce, a pandemic, the loss of a job or indeed any one of many circumstances and life changes that can affect our lives. But that loss can never understood in a vacuum because connected to every primary loss are many other secondary losses.

A “secondary loss” develops as a result of the primary loss. It is similar to those scenes where someone spends many hours setting up a complex series of dominoes. Then someone tips over the first domino in the sequence, which tips the second one, and on and on, one after the other until all the dominoes have fallen over.

These secondary losses, if you will, are the ensuing “dominoes” that fall as a direct result of the initial circumstance. Secondary losses are no less important, intense or difficult; rather they simply come as a consequence of the primary loss.

So we have to ask ourselves “What have I lost as a result of this situation?” Everyone’s response will be different, because even if we consider the pandemic our primary loss, everyone has been affected differently. What have you lost as a result of the current situation?

Many would say they have experienced relational loss. Added to the trauma of the illness itself or the threat of infection has been the reality of social distancing which has put care homes and other facilities into quarantine, meaning that when loved ones were sick or even dying, families were unable to visit to comfort the sick or companion the dying, leaving a range of emotions over not being able to say “goodbye” or even to hold a meaningful funeral or Celebration of Life with friends and family.

But even in less critical situations, we have not been able to get together with friends, to socialize except by social media. Some live alone which increases their feelings of abandonment and isolation, while others live in situations that are frankly tense where they might rather be alone.

Some experience material loss. Certainly COVID 19 has caused financial hardship to those who have lost their jobs, and stress on those whose investments and retirement savings have been decimated. For some this may result in the loss of a business or a home. Because of the secondary losses of financial pressures caused by the pandemic, their lifestyle is altered and their financial future and security has changed.

When any loss occurs, a person’s role or social identity often changes. The pandemic leaves many losing the role of a caregiver to elderly parents through quarantine or death. The role of being employed or as an employer can affect the way we perceive ourselves and how others see us.

Others may feel disappointed with systems like health-care, government,  education or social services; many existing systems that we expected would support us, but who, whether in reality or in our own perception, seem to fall short.

A death or major life upheaval can also mean the loss of our hopes and dreams of the way life was going to be. We all have a script for our lives, the way we want things to be, the goals for our lives and the hopes and dreams that we will “live happily ever after”. But now, suddenly, this is not the way life was supposed to be. This isn’t going “according to the script” that I had written for my life. A loss can sometimes mean that we struggle with “the grief of unmet expectations.” I would wager that none of us expected this to happen a year or so ago.

Thus, the most important question we can ask in any situation is: What has this individual, in this unique situation, at this particular time in their life, lost? The answer will probably be more complex than many would realize or hope. What are the “dominoes” that have fallen over for you in this current situation?

I have even heard people say, “I feel like I have lost everything.” They are not saying they have lost everything, they are really saying, “My entire world has changed.” And it feels to them like everything is being lost.

There’s a lot of grief around these days, because there are layers of loss being experienced. In our next blog we will make some suggestions and suggest some strategies to help us through these challenging times.

Next time, I will be making a few suggestions about how we can handle the grief we are feeling through these challenging times.