Perhaps he was your husband, a brother or uncle. Or perhaps she was your wife, a sister or aunt. Maybe the one who recently died was a good friend or an old chum. Relationships are so important, especially when a large part of our identity and self-esteem are based on our family and social connections. When I can think “I enjoy being her husband” or “I feel happy and safe being his wife”, what will I feel when they’re no longer here? If “I’m proud to be related to him” or “I’m blessed to know her”, what will I experience when that person is gone? The role they had in my life, and mine in theirs, will have ended, or at least changed greatly. Will I be the same person? How can I be?
In another way, though, it doesn’t matter what my relationship was to that person because every relationship is unique. (In fact, other people might not realize how important this person was to me.) If it was a good relationship, then it was a source of pleasure, meaning and purpose for me. It provided security, order and predictability in my life. I had a chance to love and be loved when I was with that person. I delighted in their presence and in the innocent expectation that although other relationships had to end this one would never end.
If, on the other hand, there was conflict in our relationship, or we hadn’t quite resolved some issues between us, then I have lost the opportunity for physical reconciliation with them. Over time I will come to understand that I can experience spiritual and emotional healing in my relationship with them, but that’s not quite the same thing as seeing a smile or feeling a hug.
As difficult as it is, one of the tasks that we have in our grief is to recognize all that we have lost through the death of our loved one, the day to day losses as well as the deeply emotional loss. “Secondary losses” refer to the hundreds of little things that we relied on that person for, or that we associate with them. That’s why the first year after a death can be so hard…..we are made aware of these losses as seasons change.
It’s important to be freely open to this experience, though, to recognize the breadth and depth of our loss. In this way we will be guided in our mourning, feeling replenished a little bit at a time.