Grief: Coping with Cumulative Losses

If you’ve ever broken an arm or a leg, you know how painful and disruptive an injury like that can be. You know you can get through it by relying more on your healthy limb, taking things slowly, and allowing your injury to heal. But if you break both legs, or repeatedly injure your arm, your recovery is likely to be much slower and more difficult.

The same holds true for the grief that comes with multiple losses. A broken limb, of course, doesn’t equate with the loss of someone you love, but the cumulative effect of multiple losses can have the same effect as multiple injuries: more acute pain and slower, more complicated healing.

What Are Cumulative Losses?

Cumulative losses can occur in several ways. A parent might lose a spouse and a child or a child might lose both parents in an accident, for example. Sometimes a family will be blessed with long life, only to see the death of the entire senior generation in the space of a few years.

But death isn’t the only kind of loss that can have cumulative effects. If job loss, divorce, and the death of a loved one occur in the space of a year or two, for example, the result can be just as devastating as a series of deaths.

Cumulative Losses, Complicated Grief

Cumulative losses lead to complicated grief. If you never properly grieved one loss, you may find that each subsequent loss reopens the pain of the first, like ripping the scab off a wound.

When losses accumulate, you may feel that God is somehow out to “get” you; the story of Job in the Bible is a classic example. But as Job learned, bad things do happen to good people. You may question why so much suffering has befallen you, but the answers will probably be out of your grasp. If you can trust, however, that you can and will work through your grief in time, you will eventually find peace.

Strategies for Coping with Cumulative Losses

As tragic as your losses are, and as alone as you may feel, try to remember that others have walked a similar path before you. They survived and learned to live again, and although it may seem impossible at this moment, you will too. Following are some strategies that can help in coping with cumulative losses:

  • Lower your expectations. Life as you know it has changed, and you can’t expect yourself to carry on as usual. You wouldn’t try to run a marathon with two broken legs; likewise, your spirit needs time to heal after the impact of multiple losses.
  • Identify resources to help you heal. Think about other times when you thought you couldn’t survive some tragedy. You found the strength or courage or faith – whatever it was you needed – to get through that difficult chapter in your life. What worked for you then? What didn’t? how did you get through? Those same resources can help you now.
  • Identify people who can and will support you – a trusted friend, a counselor, people from your church, or a grief support group. Lean on people who will listen to your feelings, help you with every day challenges, and offer encouragement as you work through your grief.
  • Take care of yourself. When you’re grieving, your body is under stress, and stress puts you at risk for digestive problems, insomnia, etc., as well as serious illnesses like heart disease and depression. Conversely, illness makes it harder to cope and work through your grief. Make an appointment for a medical checkup, and talk to your doctor about what you’re going through. If you experience prolonged depression or thoughts of suicide, call for another appointment – your doctor can prescribe treatments and medications to help you.

Share Your Experience

Have you survived the grief of multiple losses? How did you cope? What hope can you offer to others who are overwhelmed by the losses they’ve faced?

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