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Secondary ­Losses


“The truth is, a kernel of wheat
must be planted in the soil. ­
Unless it dies it will be alone—a single seed. ­
But its death will produce many new ­kernels—
a plentiful harvest of new lives. ­
Those who love their life in this world will lose it. ­
Those who despise their life in this world ­
will keep it for eternal ­life.”
John 12:24-25 ­nlt

During a torrential rainstorm in California, the mobile home park where my parents lived was flooded so quickly they had to be evacuated. My father had started to prepare lunch, and when I picked them up at the flood shelter, the only belongings he’d managed to rescue were a whole uncooked chicken and a few clothes. Later we teased him about the rescued chicken, but dealing with the aftermath of the flood was not so humorous. My parents lost many of their possessions. They were displaced from their home for months while contractors replaced the floor and repaired water-damaged ­walls.

A primary loss such as a death, divorce, serious illness, or natural disaster includes many secondary losses and complications. My parents had many losses due to the flood, including appliances, carpet, drapes, and furniture. The most difficult losses were keepsakes and ­photographs.

Secondary losses can also be emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual; we feel and experience them. They include depression; emotional and physical distress; loss of bodily functions, identity, self-esteem, and productivity; loss of status after being laid off from a job or retired; loss of appetite, energy, and restful sleep; loss of faith and commitment to serving the Lord.

Secondary losses include the many adjustments and changes we have to make in our lives. Such losses consume our energy and time because of added responsibilities or the need to take care of ­others.
People experience emotional losses when they feel their lives have lost all meaning. Their emotions seesaw between wanting to live and wishing to die, being grateful for life and despising it, wanting God to be with them and to leave them alone. Job cried to God, “I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning” (Job ­7:16).

We feel as if our days and nights are dragging on endlessly or that time is moving too swiftly without any hope in sight. Moreover, we can lose all sense of time. We cannot remember what day it is; one day moves into the next in a blur. We barely recall events that happened the day or a week before a loss. After a series of severe trials, I’ve often felt as if twenty years have passed instead of only a few ­months.

After a major loss, some people have accidents or frequent or serious illnesses. If they’re in the hospital, they feel lost without the familiar comforts of home. When they’re sick and dependent upon others for care, they feel as if they’ve lost their independence and personal ­dignity.1

My friend Judie told about the secondary losses she experienced before and after her extensive cancer surgery: “I was at a teaching hospital and was often examined by five or six doctors at a time. I felt that they did not look at me as a person but as a cancer specimen under a magnifying glass. My body was barely covered while doctors examined me and talked to each other as if I weren’t there. I felt humiliated and wanted to ­hide.

“My body was never the same after surgery and radiation. I am a twenty-year survivor of cancer, but emotionally and physically the scars will be with me for a ­lifetime.”

Prayer

O my Security, if I try to make my life secure, I will lose it, but if I lose my life, I will keep it. “The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone—a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” And if I love my life in this world, I will lose it. If I despise my life in this world, I will keep it for eternity. (Luke 17:33 nrsv paraphrased; John 12:24 nlt not paraphrased; John 12:25 nlt ­paraphrased)


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