The Ripple Effects of Love and Loss
Have you ever dropped a rock into a body of water? The rock sinks, but the impact on the surface of the water is this ripple effect… one layer creates another, and they flow one after the other in a perfect circle around the entry point of that one rock. Love is like that, and loss is like that. As you begin to love and develop a relationship with someone, other areas of your life are impacted. Loving someone is choosing to give of yourself; your time, your resources, some of your preferences. For example, as you spend more time with one person, you spend less time with other things; your lifestyle changes. When you spend more time with someone, you usually become more like them: you change in small measures. As you get closer, you yield some responsibility over to that person; your roles shift. In some ways, loving someone is like a loss because what used to be no longer is.
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same” – Flavia Weedn
When your loved one dies, there are another set of ripples that begin. Your routines, responsibilities, relational titles, and other relationships can change, along with many other things. Sometimes the ripples, or results, of primary loss feel terrible (secondary losses). Other resulting changes are positive and/or helpful (secondary gains).
I have wanted to write this series about types of secondary losses and gains for two reasons: firstly, because to share my story is to move forward on the journey toward healing. Secondly, because on my road to healing I have been surprised at grief because of secondary losses, and have found that others are not aware of my reasons for sadness until I tell them.
Secondary Losses Series
Secondary Losses: Introduction
Secondary Losses: Lifestyle & Surroundings
Secondary Losses: Roles & Relationships
Secondary Losses: The Me I Used To Be
Secondary Losses: Hopes & Dreams (you are here!)
The final blog in the series, this one, has been the most difficult to write and it has taken the largest amount of time. When I write about grief, I essentially re-enter times when I have been grieving deeply. I feel the full weight of them, in my mind and also in my body. This particular set of secondary losses – the hopes, dreams, plans, and memories I built with Eric, has bred more tears than nearly any other type of loss.
Death is never on time – it never feels like the right time for someone you love to die. Even in the case of those who die after great pain… though we are thankful that they’re no longer suffering, we mourn for ourselves because we miss them. Whether or not your loved one died suddenly or unexpectedly, it is likely that you anticipated that you would have more time with them. In the time you thought you would have, you probably made plans, had dreams and held onto hopes about how you would share it. This type of secondary loss is common for almost any primary loss, but especially after the passing of someone who was very young.
I met my late husband when we were freshmen at college. We had barely begun the journey into adulthood. It is possible to be young and also mature, but honestly we were not. Both of us longed to be loved, and we found in each other the person who would fulfill that desire. We weren’t what you might call “compatible,” but we were star-crossed and loyal.
At the beginning of our relationship, and I mean the very first week, Eric told me that he loved me. I’m not sure why I replied in kind so soon after, because I was not sure that I did! But when I did tell him I loved him back, he replied that he could not wait to meet the children we would have together! He was not one to take his time when he felt sure of something. For years we laughed about this, as we grew in honest and deep love, and we did have beautiful children. Eric was my other half, and the witness to my life. He was my kids’ other parent, and the second keeper of memories they would not know first hand.
Between the moment we met and the day that he died, there were six years and just under six months of transitions both lovely and hard. In that time we shared many memories, inside jokes and intimate moments, plans, hopes, and dreams. Now that he has gone, one entire half of all of those things is gone with him into the grave. The intimate memories are halfway dead because a memory lasts only as long as it is remembered. The inside jokes are mostly gone because they are funny only to the remaining person. The plans, hopes, and dreams we had together are now only mine – and since they no longer involve him, they are greatly changed.
“The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we’d done were less real and important than they had been hours before.” ― John Green, Th Fault In Our Stars
When Eric died, so did the future we had planned and expected together. I am not talking about a bucket list of things we wanted to do – though I can assure you, there are many things on that list. No, I’m referring to the things that he was supposed to be here for: the birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, milestones, deaths, births, accomplishments, and transitions.
At my son’s first birthday, I looked around and my heart just ached because his daddy was no where in sight. He should be here. Our first dance at our wedding reception, was to a song by Brad Paisley, called “Then.” The song referenced how much we planned to love each other when our hairs were turning grey. Yet, when I found my first gray hair a couple months ago, he was not loving me then. I did not cry because I was aging, but because he was not there to see it. He should be here. The first year after he was gone was particularly difficult, because even though I knew it was impossible, I waited for him to show up. He should be here. I watched the door at every family gathering, I held my breath until the end of another big event, and I felt the disappointment again each time he didn’t make it. In my head I knew, but my heart did not follow.
One September day during that year, I had a vivid daydream…
My preschoolers were chasing each other up and down the playground – their sweet giggles filling my ears and their smiles as bright as the sun. A light breeze played with my hair, as the cool sand tickled my toes and the sun warmed my shoulders. I looked down at my arms and saw a sweet sleeping baby girl. Her golden curls danced as she snored perfectly – my Charlotte Elizabeth. I felt my husband’s arm around me while I held our precious girl, and her tiny hand wrapped around his finger. With a smile, Eric slipped gently from her grasp and ran to catch our boys. With each stride, he tossed sand into the air, grinning from ear to ear and playfully calling their names. But suddenly… the background music I didn’t realize I had been hearing changed from a soft pleasant melody to something eerie. Quick, high-pitched flue notes accompanied minor key notes in a foreboding soundtrack… and I knew something was terribly wrong. A cloud covered the sun, and a chilly wind crossed my bare shoulders. My eyes darted to my arms… empty. There was nothing, and no one there. I looked up to my children… one, two… just two of them. No baby girl, no daddy. Another melody began in my mind: “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine…you’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away…The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping, I dreamed I held you in my arms. When I awoke dear, I was mistaken. So I hung my head and I cried..”.
Eric and I had dreamt of having more children together. We had even named them. If things had gone according to our hopes and plans, I would have been pregnant that September and I would have given birth to our third child in February – at about the same time that, in reality, I mourned the one year anniversary of Eric’s death. In my mind’s eye, that third child is a little girl. I did not lose a child, but I did lose the hope of one. And even if I’m blessed with more children, even if I do get to be “mom” to a curly-blonde-haired little princess, the dream of having her with Eric is lost.
It is difficult to compare the life that I love now to the life that I loved pre-loss. I am thankful for the life that I had – my lifestyle, surroundings, roles, relationships, situational and relational personality and choices, and of course for all of the time that I had Eric in my life. I am also thankful for the life that I have now in every area. Loving what I have, who I am, and where we are now does not negate my love of the past. Saying that I have gained something as a result of the transitions following Eric’s death, or even because he died, is not the same thing as being happy or thankful that he died.
There are many benefits of being unmarried, and singleness is described as a gift by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. Before I met and married Eric, I was a single girl, but not in the same way that I am single now. As a young girl, I had some idea of who I was, who I wanted to be, and where I wanted to go… but not to the extent that I do with a few more years and experiences. My dreams before I became a wife largely consisted of having a husband and doing things with him. When I was married to him, the plans I made and the hopes I had were based on a beautiful life together, and dreams I had when I was younger pretty much faded into the recesses of my mind.
The “with him” is no longer possible, but many of the dreams still are. I can see the world, I have new ministry opportunities in front of me, I have a thriving “bucket list,” and I get to decide when I want to pursue those things. Some dreams that I had before meeting Eric have returned. I also have some new dreams, some things that may not have even been possible while he was alive. One of them, and this is tricky to write about, is that I may get the chance to fall in love a second time. My heart will never lose space for Eric. Instead, my heart may expand to love even more people, just as it did when I did not lose love for my first son but grew in love when my second child was born.
I’ve found on my journey with grief, especially in the ripple effects of the greatest loss of my life up to this point, that there isn’t a way to capture and overcome it. Just as I did in high school, I want to take an assignment, complete it, receive a grade, and move on to the next. Yet mourning is much more like a process, and one in which there is no clear objective other than to someday be “healed.” If my aim is to get over it, I will not reach my goal. I have found it helpful, though, to work through the grief that comes my way instead of hiding it below the surface. Grief that is stifled for too long is like a capped soda bottle that keeps being shaken. Sooner or later, that cap is going to pop off and the fizzy liquid is going to explode onto everything around it! C.S. Lewis said that, “there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it” (A Grief Observed). And that is the work of grief: to struggle with it, to go through it, to keep moving toward healing. Here are some prompts that may help you work through your grief:
- Have you taken time to think about the ripple effects that resulted from your biggest loss? Try to make a list of those things.
- If your loss included another person, consider sharing about the memories you don’t want to forget with another person, or in a journal.
- How have your plans, hopes, and dreams changed since your loss?
- Ultimately, God is in charge of what will happen in your future. Yet, many of the things you would like to experience are within your power to move toward. What steps can you take to reach those things?