In working with grieving clients through the years, I have noticed that it is not just the experience of a primary loss or trauma that leads to deep sorrow and agonizing confusion.  It is all the other losses connected to the first ordeal as well. Collateral grief refers to everything else in our life that is negatively impacted and affected by the core event.  Simply put, it refers to all the losses that accompany a death or devastating experience.  When we fail to attend to our primary grief, we can easily be buried under an avalanche of these secondary losses without even recognizing their significance.

Here are two examples:

1.) The death of a spouse can affect

  • our sense of identity in the world as we move from being part of a couple to being a widow,
  • our sense of purpose in living out our days without this familiar person as the touchstone to our life goals and dreams,
  • our social standing or our comfort zone with our usual friends, and
  • our sense of security or financial stability.

2.) In the loss of a job or career we can lose not only our primary source of income but also

  • our sense of confidence and self-worth,
  • our connection and sense of belonging to a work-place community of friends and colleagues,
  • a sense of purpose that is found in productive activities, and
  • our home and neighbors if we have to move to find new employment.

Secondary or collateral losses need to be addressed in our bereavement journey if our healing is to be authentic and lasting.  In giving all the sorrows that touch our lives the attention they require, we can find the courage and support for new decisions and the hope of better days ahead.  Our life after death, loss, and trauma may never be the same, but it is still and always our life to be honored and fully embraced.