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Secondary Grief

By: Hannah Dearth





Have you ever felt the deep pain of loss, the waves of sadness, the emotional wreckage that comes with losing someone...except you really didn’t know them all that well, or maybe even at all?


It could be something you read online, or you even watched it on the news.


Possibly, someone you love lost someone they love...a parent, a child, a close friend.


In social work, hearing some of my child client’s horrific experiences would sometimes give me a bad dream, anxiousness, or feelings of depression. This was called: Secondary Trauma. I wasn’t there, I didn’t know them outside of our 45 minutes together each week, but it impacted me.


So, what about the idea of Secondary Grief? Secondary Grief, being a similar response to Secondary Trauma, except this is an experience specifically toward loss, which causes the motions of grieving.


My father in-law, for example, I didn’t get to know very well like I wish I could have. Cancer took him quickly, and my son was just a baby. I feel grief for the loss of his life... oh, I do. But, the secondary grief is some of the hardest grief I feel. I feel it for my babies not getting to know him. I feel it for my husband when I can tell he wishes he could just call him up and talk to him or ask him a question.


A mass shooting that happens across the country, a viral and sad social media post. My neighbor losing a loved one suddenly. I don’t know those people. I don’t even know someone who knows them in a lot of situations, but it hurts my heart so deeply, that I am brought to tears. I feel even sometimes low for the day, and off. I catch myself later on in the week, coming back to it, then praying over it.


Secondary grief is real. It’s can be hard to logically understand or even explain sometimes. It is a bit deeper than general empathy. It’s an internal shift from sadness to pain. Sometimes it’s brief, sometimes it comes and goes.


Either way, it matters. Recognize it. Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Pray. Cry. Do what you need to do. It is significant.

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