Secondary & Cumulative Losses
“For the friends of that student, the grieving process was a little bit more challenging because it wasn’t just a loss of a friend….A lot of times the students will give up the sport, or the activity, or the hobby that they enjoy because it’s just not the same without their friend.” (Counselor)
This module describes issues related to secondary and cumulative loss. When a child’s parent or other close family member dies, the child loses that person. This is considered the primary loss. However, there are additional losses related to the death that affect children deeply. Events and changes that occur as the result of the death are considered secondary losses.
Some children experience many losses over time—the deaths of multiple classmates, friends, or family members due to wars, natural disasters, community violence or other causes. These are cumulative losses. Even when children and teens act like they don’t care, these losses affect them profoundly.
Common secondary losses include:
- Changed relationships. Familiar people may no longer be a part of a child’s life.
- Financial, school and lifestyle changes. Families may have to move to new neighborhoods, smaller or more crowded homes, or different school districts.
- Less available parent/family. If adults are grieving deeply, they may be less available in practical or emotional ways.
- Change in future plans. Teens’ plans for college or career training may no longer be possible.
Grieving students may find it difficult to describe or cope with these losses. They sometimes avoid discussing them with others in the family to spare them further distress. When education professionals invite grieving students to talk about these types of losses, they offer valuable support that may not be available elsewhere.
Cumulative losses due to community violence or other causes do not protect or desensitize students. Children do not get used to the death of peers or family. However, they may feel adults are unable or unwilling to provide support or safety after a death occurs, and therefore choose not to share their grief with adults. School personnel can help by providing students opportunities to honestly express themselves and their feelings about such losses.
View the video by chapters:
The importance of identifying and addressing secondary losses
The added burden of cumulative loss, especially for children living in violent communities