Those of you who follow my blog know my husband and I lost a daughter eleven years ago. Michelle’s death plunged us into deep, inky waters of grief. While struggling just to survive we were blind-sided by Grief’s ugly-step-sisters—Secondary Losses.

Grief is an unwelcome guest who stays much too long, not pretty at all, who plunges the family into chaos. But Secondary Losses are the evil relatives of Grief that slip in the back-door and linger forever. They litter the landscape with shrapnel-sized-shards of anguish that are often as difficult to deal with as the original loss.

Worse yet, they lurk behind the shadows of family members, good friends, even making appearances at happy events. Ever waiting to earn the greatest buck-for-the-bang and then implodes. The injuries they inflict are not terminal, but often perpetrate permanent disabilities upon their victims.

So what in the world are secondary losses?

Well, they’re certainly not bashful. Their name shouts their identity—a related loss that evolves out of the original loss. An additional loss that strikes when you least expect it, when you are most vulnerable.

Like the granddaughter whose grandmother died this year. Her Mimi was the glue that held the family together. Several weeks after her death, grandpa announced he wanted all her stuff out of the house and wanted nothing to do with the rest of the family. Ever. No more Sunday dinners at grandma’s. No more visiting the home that stored a lifetime of memories for this teen. No more relationship with the grandfather she had loved. Three secondary losses that left this grandchild shattered.

When an infant dies, the parents loose their future—their dreams. There will be no first steps, first words. No smiles or hugs. No first day at school. The list multiplies. For years after a baby’s tragic demise, secondary losses accumulate, building a wall of separation and blame between the couple. Unless the grieving couple gets help, more often than not, their marriage disintegrates.

When a husband or wife dies the spouse will most likely remarry. The family is swept up in a reconstruction zone. When the flood waters of grief mix with the dust of new construction it can cause a murky mess.  Often there are too many in-laws for the new mom or dad to deal with. These relational secondary losses impact everyone—kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles and yes, sometimes even family friends. Holidays, birthdays, and special events change or are forever lost.

The loss of an older child results in the loss of an expected future for the entire family. The role that child played in the family circle sits vacant. For siblings, it’s a wrenching or splitting apart of the oneness that brothers and sisters enjoy that leaves them empty. Half of a whole. If the siblings were twins, many more layers are involved.

The aging process robs us of our parents. While they may be sick and ready to leave this life, there are secondary losses even with an expected departure. You and I are moved up—next in line. We unwillingly become the matriarchs and patriarchs of the family. The structure of the family changes. Everything changes. And we don’t like change.

So what are we to do with these loose strings of grief that tangle, knot, and upset our lives? Are we doomed to a life of grief? No. Not at all. But we must travel those dark corridors. Not climbing over, tunneling under, nor sneaking around the pain. We must work through the grief. And it is work. Left to itself, grief will make you bitter. But with God’s help and comfort you will become better. It’s your choice.

We must understand and accept that it is alright to grieve. It is necessary to grieve. It is normal to grieve. And yes, Christians must grieve. Grief is the normal reaction when someone we love dies.