The High Cost of Losing a Child

I think it’s safe to say that those who have not experienced the death of the child can understand, on some level, that it is a huge, incomprehensible loss. I’m not sure anyone outside the “club no one wants to join” – the “club” of parents whose children have died – can truly understand the impact of such loss, though. I would never wish that understanding on anyone, because that would mean they would have to walk this horrible walk of grief. But, I also think it is safe to say that there is even less understanding regarding secondary losses following the death of a child.

Before Jason died, I never could have imagined the walk we have had to walk. It’s been a rough one, and saying that is an understatement. Jason’s death has affected our family in so many ways. Our lives were shattered when Jason died. And then it seemed like so many other things have broken off and shattered, too, along the way. Friendships. Income. Loss of identity. So many additional losses. Secondary losses.

I think the whole secondary loss thing caught me by surprise. These additional losses were really hard to process. Friends who disappeared. People who avoided us. Questioning my faith. Too many losses to count. I’ve written about some of these secondary losses over the years. It’s difficult to understand how someone who has suffered such a huge loss would continue to have additional losses piled on top. Losses on top of more losses. It’s hard to comprehend and process so much loss. The secondary losses make the load of grief even heavier to bear.

I recently read a good article that talks about secondary losses. The author explains that secondary losses are a result of the primary loss. Our grief encompasses both the primary loss AND the secondary losses. The secondary losses are precipitated by the primary loss (the death of our child), but they become a part of our overall grief.


The author writes, “Though it is easy to think that our grief is solely the grief of losing the person we cared for so deeply, our grief is also the pain of the other losses that were a result of the death.” One grief, many  parts. Yes, I grieve Jason’s death. His death is the big, huge hole in our lives and is the main reason for my grief. But his death also created other losses that I grieve.  I miss friends I used to have. I miss our home. I miss the feeling of security. Had Jason not died, I would not have experienced these and many more losses. All of these secondary losses are interconnected to the primary loss to some degree.

The also author states, “Understanding the possibility of experiencing grief from these secondary losses can help build self-awareness and help identify complexities of our own grief.  Once we have identified these losses we are better equipped to face and mourn them.  We begin to understand that the whole of our grief is comprised of many parts, including the primary loss and the secondary losses.” (

I’m not sure I agree completely with this particular concept that we can build a self-awareness in order to be better prepared for secondary losses, especially right after the death of a child. And I’m not sure why there would be a reason to anticipate we would want to prepare for such losses if we didn’t know our child was going to die. Perhaps this would help in the event of a terminally ill child, but, wouldn’t the parent be dealing with enough anyway? I don’t know. Sometimes there’s just no way to prepare for certain things.

I don’t think it would have been helpful to me if someone had come up to me early on in this grief journey, right after Jason died, and said to me, “Just wanted you to be aware that you will probably experience additional losses in your life besides the loss/death of Jason, so you had better prepare your self for it.” I was so overwhelmed by Jason’s death, in and of itself, that I don’t think I could have handled it and probably would have rejected the concept of more loss. At some point, we all will deal with secondary losses; I guess it’s just a matter of timing. It didn’t help me, for example, when I went to a local Compassionate Friends group right after Jason died, to hear one gal say to me (after I had explained to the group why I had started to attend), “Oh, you’re just a baby (in your grief process).” I realize now that, at the time she said that to me, I was just a few steps into this journey and that I had (and still have) a long journey ahead of me. At the time, though, it was not a helpful comment and was poor timing. (I never went back to that group.)

But, I still think she has some good things to say about understanding and identifying secondary losses. I also think it’s important to understand that the primary loss of the death of a child can create secondary losses. Those secondary losses may be immediate or the may happen over time. For example, our loss of friendships was more or less immediate. Another mother told me that she had great support after the death of her daughter, but then nearly all of her friends disappeared over time as they got tired of hearing about her grief and felt like she was not “getting over it” quickly enough. No one will experience the same grief or the same losses, whether primary or secondary.

I hope you will take time to read the article: Secondary Loss – one loss isn’t enough??!! As always, I appreciate your input.


© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney


19 thoughts on “The High Cost of Losing a Child

  1. Becky, this post really resonated with me. I mourned the secondary losses greatly – especially the innocence that I had before my son died. I’m going to add another secondary loss to your list: health. Grief erodes our health and I’ve seen it happen to many people.
    I’m sorry you experienced that turn-off at a Compassionate Friends meeting. I was fortunate that I found people at those meetings who really helped me deal with my loss in helpful ways.

    • Yes, health is certainly another secondary loss.

      I probably should have given the Compassionate Friends a second chance. I wish I had. What’s that saying? “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Perhaps I hit it on an off night. Perhaps my needs were greater than what was available that night. There were several things that night that really turned me off, and I felt neither a plethora of compassion nor a hand of friendship. It was a pretty tight-knit, established group that had been together a long time and they seemed rather wrapped up in themselves. I probably needed more validation of my grief than was available. I was desperate for someone to hold me and tell me I was going to be okay. I didn’t have the energy at that time to try to make room for myself in the group. I just felt it wasn’t a good fit at the time.

      • Even though you’ve put in many years of hard time in grief, I encourage you to check out a meeting again. I actually went to several meetings (in varied locations) and each one was different. I feel you have a warmth and brilliance that would lead you to very helpful connections. I really don’t believe it’s too late to explore this – certainly, you would bless someone else with your abundant grief wisdom.

      • Judy, you clearly had a wonderful experience with Compassionate Friends. My husband and I attended for 19 months. We tried different meetings too and many times left feeling worse than when we arrived. We had to stop going. The final draw was when the facilitator of our meeting insulted me in front of the entire group after she accused me of being so angry when I first started attending meetings which was 3 months after Amy’s passing. Angry? I cried through most of the meeting and when the topic of forgive everyone because they “just don’t know” came up, I said not everyone deserves that blanket of forgiveness just because “they dont know.” We teach people how to treat us. Guess that sounded angry. Maybe I was supposed to agree with everything she said. Judy, you are an asset to any group you are part of, but sometimes Compassionate Friends isnt a right fit for everyone so I understand what Becky is saying too. I am glad you had a good experience but I wasn’t always feeling the love or compassion.

  2. Thank you for sharing this Becky-I think that those who haven’t experienced the loss of a close loved one (much less a child, as we have) don’t have any concept of these secondary losses. And they pile on-one atop the other-and make grief work that much more difficult. You’re right-it wouldn’t have been particularly helpful to know that these were “coming” right after losing my son, but knowing that they exist in the first months was helpful for me. I was better prepared to identify what was at the root of increased anxiety, sorrow or feelings of fear. Praying for both of us as we continue to live without the child we love and continue to make adjustments and face additional loss.

  3. Thank you for your article Becky…it certainly brought back memories. My greatest loss after losing Danielle was having my dear mother pass away when I arrived back in my home town after our search in Fiji for Danielle. I think my Mum waited until I got home and it was too much for her to bear losing her granddaughter and she died the following day. The timing was terrible. It was devastating. My husband, who was Danielle’s stepfather,wanted the old Janice back and you are a different person after such tragic loss. This was so difficult. He has since passed away too. I envied people who had supportive, kind partners. It is amazing how your life an change in a moment. Love and very best wishes x

  4. I’ve been feeling the secondary losses but did not identify them as such. This article names it and that is very helpful just to have something to call it.

    I’m not sure where this experience fits, but I have been thinking recently how my “mother bear” instinct was stifled by my church environment. Of course, I recognized suicide is difficult for everyone, especially since Chris grew up in the church and was very involved. It was a difficult time for all.

    Yet, I found myself having to give more than was given to me. Because of the nature of his death, the concern seemed to be more on not having copy cat suicides than on our grieving family.

    I will always be thankful for the memorial service at my church. The support was amazing and appreciated. But it was short-lived because starting right after the service, a man came up to me with a packet of information, telling me another one of my children could do the same thing! In the days and weeks following, there was a strange distance that only pushed me farther down into the dark abyss of grief.

    I have no bitterness because when God gives grace and strength, you are able to say “forgive them for they know not..” It’s just that my normal, mother bear instinct was stifled in exchange for the betterment of the church – sacrificing for the benefit of the entire group.

    This has only strengthened my faith. But I wish I could understand why the distance occurs with people. It’s not just with suicide, but it happened with your Jason.

    Even though we can’t always be emotionally prepared with secondary grief, it helps to identify it because knowledge is power. Thank-you so much for sharing it with us!

    • Kathy, after Amy’s sudden death, my church totally let us down. Our pastor could have walked to our home, yet he never came. He discouraged my son from doing my daughter’s eulogy yet he screwed it up and spoke so fast that no one knew what he was saying. The church is only as helpful as its congregation and its leaders.

      I am sorry for what you went through. My father took his life. I know our family dealt with many secondary losses. And here I am again since losing Amy.

  5. There is an extraordinary high cost for losing a child. Nothing in this universe prepares you and the expectations of a bereaved family are often unrealistic. Good post, Becky.

  6. Your post explained well what has happened in our family. Initially the church was supportive, but then the “expectations” came, along with the hints of “conversations” disguised as prayer intentions. I had one woman come up to me (our deaconess) and suggest starting a bible study with the woman who ran over my son.

    The woman who killed him continue to lie about it, and fought us tooth-and-nail every step of the way, including running away from the trial process and partying it up and looking for dates. That is how little my son’s life meant to her.

    I would like to ask the Jobs comforters, so which 2 of your children would you give up to the Death Angel? Because their words are so empty, seeking to build their imaginary image up before others.

    I have studied NDEs which has helped me some. Just enough not to find the nearest cliff and jump off—my faith as it was, truly inadequate. Much like the position that Elie Wiesel found himself in, the God I thought I had vanished.

    I appreciate this blog and the honest sharing, even if there are hard things to be said.

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