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Secondary losses from a primary loss

By Ted Wiard
For The Taos News
Posted 9/5/18

Dear Dr. Ted: My father died a few weeks ago. He had been living with me for the last couple of years as dementia slowly stole his life and I had become his caregiver

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Ask Golden Willow

Secondary losses from a primary loss

Posted

Dear Dr. Ted: My father died a few weeks ago. He had been living with me for the last couple of years as dementia slowly stole his life and I had become his caregiver. Over those two years we, luckily, became closer even though I slowly watched the man I know fade away. There was a continuous grief process during this time as I wished for him to be who he used to be, but there was also an unconditional love that grew and appreciation for gentleness and kindness in the moment. I am sad that he died, and I was also surprised by the emptiness that filled my house. I realized I had some other type of loss; it felt like a piece of me died as my role of being his caregiver ended. Is this a common type of grief? Thanks, Beth

Dear Beth, First of all, I wish you continued healing in your grief process from the death of your father. Sharing your journey can be beneficial in processing and healing, allowing others in similar situations to know that they are not alone in their caregiving and grieving process of a loved one.

Finding those precious moments of love is so important as a caregiver and creates a special place within the heart that has no words. Often, the caregiver may not be a loved one but a professional and over time the level of care can create a healthy and loving bond as well. In your case, this was your father and it is wonderful you were able to give him care and help him with the last years of his life while gleaning special moments that will stay in your heart forever.

As a caregiver, when the person dies, a grief process begins. Other types of losses, called secondary losses, may not be recognized and can cause emotional distress for the bereft. A common secondary loss is the loss of a role for the caregiver.

My guess is that a lot of your time was physically and mentally spent taking care of your father and now that role has been taken away. You may feel relief as caregiving can be exhausting, and at the same time you may feel an emptiness as all of your time and energy has gone into your role as a caregiver.

Grief is the natural, normal, healing process after the loss of identity or self as you transition to redefine your life after the death of your father. This type of loss is often disenfranchised because it is an unconscious process, or it may feel self-centered and for some reason doesn't seem appropriate to share or recognize.

The redefining of a person's (as well as a family or organization's) role is also a grief process and, if consciously grieved, can help support the healing process from the identified loss. Honoring all emotions during a loss can help create a new feeling of stability and recognition of your present moment. Then you are taking care of yourself in your healing process.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, Founder of Golden Willow Retreat at GWR@newmex.com

This column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.

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