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Secondary losses: The aftershocks of losing a loved one

The death of a loved one has a ripple effect like an earthquake has aftershocks—the initial earthquake is the death and the aftershocks are the multiple subsequent or secondary losses that occur as a result of the death.  

Aftershocks can come when we least expect them to.

The death of a loved one changes our world physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially and spiritually.  And now, the COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened these changes.

There is WORK involved in grieving and part of this work is to acknowledge secondary losses require us to give them their own unique grief responses as well.

The following are some of the secondary losses one might experience after the death of a loved one:

  1. A loss of identity – we tend to identify ourselves by the role or position we have in a relationship. Death changes this. We lose identity as a parent, spouse, child or sibling.
  2. A loss of support systems – This includes family members, friends and community groups.
  3. A loss of “the familiar” or normalcy – Everything changes in some way after a death: your house, routines/schedules, relationships with others (as their relationship with the person who died has changed as well).
  4. A loss of financial security – There may be increased financial stress if the primary wage earner might be the person who died, or if there is a debt of medical bills.
  5. A loss of confidence – There is often an inability to feel safe after a death loss.
  6. A loss of spirituality – Faith can be challenged.
  7. A loss of health – After a death, our chemical balance changes. Physical problems resulting from emotional stress can be exhibited as exhaustion, nausea, headaches, muscle knots, back problems, balance problems and anxiety.

Naming aloud the grief losses you’re experiencing is a step toward healing.  A loss is a loss, no matter how big or small. The grief journey you’re on takes time and patience on the way toward healing.

Please know that you are not alone on this journey. Please know that I’m here for you, too. You can reach me at 210-757-9428 during business hours, or you can email me.  

Joe Villanueva Jr.

Brenda Villanueva remembers the day her son Joe told her, “Mom, if something happens to me, don’t cry for me. Just let me go and go on with your life.”

A week later, on Dec. 23, 2015, Joe passed away unexpectedly from an aneurysm.

But he left Brenda with one last surprise — he had signed up to be an organ, eye and tissue donor.

“At first, I couldn’t accept what he had done because we never talked about it,” she said. “But then I realized, wait a minute, he saved so many lives.”

Joe’s gift helped heal countless people. Brenda received a letter from one of the people he helped from his liver donation.

“The person who got his liver is now living his life with family,” she said. “He thanks me so many times in that letter.”

Giving the gift of life was a wonderful legacy to leave behind for a man who loved life to the fullest. 

A love for the open road, Joe made a career as a truck driver. But when at home it was always about family. Joe was inseparable from his uncle John.

“Instead of uncle and nephew, they were more like brother and brother,” Brenda said. They did everything together.

Joe also adored his two sons, Joey Jr. and Jonathan, and tried to spend as much time with them as possible.

Most people remember Joe for bringing joy to those around him. He loved dancing to Tejano and country music, barbequing on the weekends and catching the Houston Texans games.

Most of all, Joe had a smile that would light up a room and a heart of gold to go with it.

“He was very helpful to everybody,” Brenda said. “Whoever needed his help, he would be there for them.”

Joe even found time in helping his church with community garage sales.

Joe’s positive outlook inspired the people around him, including his son Joey Jr., who wants to follow in his father’s footsteps as a truck driver.

For Joe’s birthday on Feb. 8, the Villanueva family remembers him by celebrating his life and his lasting legacy.

“I’m just proud of my son for what he did.”