Monday, November 26, 2007

Secondary Loss

A secondary loss is a loss that happens after you have lost a loved one. Secondary losses can come when death forces you to move, leave friends, join another church, change jobs or schools. These losses are secondary in name only. Sometimes they have a more profound impact than the loss itself. Often they serve as a unwanted reminder of the greatness and magnitude of your loss.

During these holidays the secondary losses can stack one upon another and begin to become overwhelming. Putting up a Christmas tree has always been a joyous event in our home. We can and have logically anticipated that this was to be another hard process of our grief. As so many others have experienced, this going through the motions rings hallow but necessary. So we put up our tree. We have begun to hang ornaments. We are not finished because of different work schedules, but we will get it done, hopefully this week. Yet, I find a sad and strangely comforting mixture in this. With each ornament I hold I am reminded that Tammy held it last. With each memory wrapped around the special ornaments we have collected in our lifetime together, there is joy in the memory of places visited, the hands of little ones creating this masterpiece and the memories of life together. There is something else. Something I will never be able to say again. It seems strange, but I am speaking of the order in which our well packed Christmas decorations are found. Tammy was the greatest organizer I have ever known. She was not big on labels but she did not have to be. The order she brought to our lives was simple, logical and obvious, not needing a lot of instruction.

Upon opening boxes I found order, sweet order. Plain and beautiful ornaments resting safe in the boxes they were purchased in years ago, waiting to be brought out to the light. I found in stronger boxes the most precious ornaments, those hand made or the ones celebrating milestones in our kid's lives. Then there were the ones from our travels and vacations together as a family. It always seemed strange to buy Christmas ornaments in June and July but we did whenever we could. We went to Washington D.C. so often that we began a collection of special ornaments of the Capital and the White House neatly placed in their original boxes. The Ribbons we wrap the tree in are rolled up in their own place. The other decorations that adorn our living room are in their place. All a tribute to an orderly mind and heart. Tammy's mother tells of cooking one day when Tammy was about three years old. Tammy marched into the kitchen with a pad of paper in one hand and a pencil in the other. She pulled a drawer out and stood on it to reach the counter top. She then proceeded to make a list of the things she would do that day.

Order is a precious gift to a family, especially a grieving family. Our lives were well ordered and by God's grace and thanks to the Holy Spirit, continues to be, well, not quite as orderly. I make list now even though it is not my nature to do so. We struggle to get a grip on different and ever changing schedules. I am reminded that she brought order to our lives and for that I am so grateful. Last July, about a month before her death, Tammy and I were traveling and really enjoying each others company. We were talking about our finances, a subject that she brought from chaos to order every day. She stopped mid sentence and said, with her rye sense of humor. "You better hope I never die, because you will be in a world of hurt if I do." My response, "I have a simple solution to that, Don't die! Then we will be alright."

Well, she was right, I am in a world of hurt. My world of hurt is not total choas, thanks to her, nor is it found in want, but a powerful sense of loss. I have lost the one who ordered my life and made it possible for me to do what I am called of God to do. It may be what is termed, "Secondary loss" but it feels like a great loss to me.

Order My Steps Lord.
Ed Litton


Anonymous said...

Pastor Ed I continue to read your daily blogs even though my heart breaks for you, you have such sweet memories and I have pain and resentment..yesterday as Brianna and I decorated our tree she came across the ornaments that belonged to her daddy and I could not bear to let her hang them..I know that is wrong but I am so bitter and jealous..he is putting up his tree with someone else and it sickens me..I sat up last night at 12:30 and prayed that the lord would take the thoughts of anger away..they are not going....please pray for us as we continue to pray for you and yours...claudia stalcup

Andy Wood said...


Your insights, born in pain and borne by the Spirit, continue to light a pathway through the darkness to others. It was a blessing to meet you last night, and a profound gift to me to be reminded that losses don't stop being losses just because that initial rush of support (as in the funeral crowd) is gone. Or when the desk at work is cleaned out for the last time at work. Or the good-bye party is history.

Order our steps indeed, Lord! And bring peace to what no human can.

MikeS said...


I know your pain. I remember the pain of "secondary loss." Still hurts no matter what you call it.

Thanks for sharing.

May God truly bless you,

Anonymous said...

I lost my joy.
There is a line out of 'You've Got Mail' where Tom Hanks says sarcastically "It's a snap to find the one person in the world who fills your heart with joy"
I agree.
I never understood 'joy'. I'd heard of it. Read about it. Sang about it. Lived a happy, content life until 'joy' showed up. Joy is well....'joy!' Nothing else compares. 'Joy' brings out the best aspects of your character-an amazingly wonderful emotion. I understand 'joy' but now it's gone.
Here's a thought-I guess I should be grateful for being allowed to experience it and actually understand it. At least I know what Joy is and noone or thing can ever take that knowledge away from me now.

I recently saw a photo of a young woman sleeping on the floor next to the casket of her husband-a marine. She wanted to sleep next to him one last time before they put him in the ground. Heartwrenching-

God has been so good and gracious to me. Above all else I trust Him. I trust in his goodness and his love that he knows the beginning from the end and that he has a plan for me and my seed.

One more thought-I've been meaning to bring up and it is from 'The Hiding Place' Corrie Ten Boom wrote about the house she had after the war. Survivors of the war came and spent time there to heal. I remember that gardening was an important activity she encouraged them to participate in. She said that they would come and go and one day when they were ready they would just leave. Something as simple as gardening helped them to heal. I thought it was interesting.

God makes all things beautiful in time.