Embedded Losses

Embedded Losses

Embedded losses are losses which are ancillary or secondary to the main loss. For example, when a spouse dies, the death is the main loss that most people focus upon. The secondary losses are those such as: the loss of a breadwinner, the loss of someone who helped you raise your children, the possible financial hardship, the loss of someone who remembers when your son or daughter lost their first tooth, the loss of someone who was with you in the delivery room, the loss of the person who maintained the house or did the cooking and many others. These are all embedded in the loss of the spouse and are secondary losses which are often overlooked in the grief from the primary loss.

Embedded losses are also inherent in other life events besides death. For example: the loss of a home through fire, sale or bankruptcy; the loss of a job through retirement, lay-off, or a move; the death of a beloved pet are all losses which likely have embedded losses attached to them.

Sometimes, it is the secondary losses that are the most acute and painful. The loss of a person who witnessed your history, who understands what significant things in life happened to you, to make you who you are, is sometimes much greater than just simply knowing they will no longer be with you to witness future events. In this instance, a person may be grieving multiple things at the same time. In other words, they are grieving the primary loss and the accompanying secondary losses. Professionals, family, and friends who wish to be helpful may want to consider the following things when thinking about the embedded losses.

  • First, recognize the existence of these losses. Don’t assume you know what they are. When the timing is right, check in with the person and ask them about the depth of the loss. Most people will readily talk about loss and will reveal to you in those conversations the extent and depth of that loss. It is here you will likely learn about the secondary and embedded losses.
  • Second, recognize that while you usually can do nothing to restore the primary loss, you may be able to assist with an embedded loss. If the loss is a move to a new house where the person left a beloved garden, perhaps helping them plot a new garden or bringing them a plant for their new deck can help. Of course, it is important to take your cues from the person and move at their speed. It is also important to understand that restoring and replacing are not the goal. Rather, refocusing on the future while honoring the past is the goal.
  • Finally, understand that timing is everything. Depending upon the depth of the loss, it may take months or even years before the secondary losses come to light. Being a good listener is an asset to cultivate. Sometimes simply asking if there is a practical way you can help is the best service you can do for someone working through embedded loss.

At Perspectives, we believe that you need not walk alone. This is especially true during the grieving process. We are here to help and support you and your loved ones during this difficult time. Call us at 248-244-8644 to make an appointment with a confidential, caring therapist.

by Chris LePage