Secondary pain after secondary loss

Pain is a funny thing. It can be hidden and sneak up and catch a person unawware.

Years ago, back when I was young and foolish, I went to bed really really late one night…and had to get up really early for work.

The night was going to be short…almost more of a nap than a night’s rest, it seemed like, and so I thought I wouldn’t bother taking my contacts out.

These were not the sort of contacts that were meant to be in my eyes for sleeping. I knew that. But I figured that a few hours wouldn’t bother, and it would save me a few minutes at either end of the night—giving me an extra 5 minutes of winks.

Bad. Decision.

As I rolled over in the night, I musta opened my eyes a bit. I found out later that my contacts moved with my eyelids over very dry eyes, scratching my eyeballs, creating corneal abrasions…I understand that corneas are the most sensitive surface of the body. I can believe it.

My right eye hurt. Bad. Really. Bad.

My short night of sleep now disappeared into no sleep as I needed to go to the hospital, because while I didn’t know what was wrong at the time, I knew that I was in some serious pain.

I couldn’t believe how much my right eye hurt. It really hurt. I knew it was my fault, and it was unnecessary, and silly, but mostly I just couldn’t believe how much that eye hurt. After some hours at the emergency where I paced back and forth in distress, the eye doctor did his thing and came up with his diagnosis. He said that the both eyes had some damage, they would heal themselves in just a couple of days, the right being worse than the left. I knew that. He didn’t have to tell me—my right eye was telling me that very clearly.

He said he could put an anesthetic in my eye that would stop the pain…but it would make my eye completely defenseless, and so he would have to patch it for my protection. So…he wasn’t willing to do 2 eyes, rendering me sightless (because I think he didn’t trust me to keep the patches over both eyes for that long)—therefore, anesthetic only on one eye.

My right eye was begging for relief…it hurt so much. I didn’t care about treating the left eye. It wasn’t bothering me like the right. So he put the drop in my right eye. Instant relief.

For the right eye.

But now the left one hurt.

Not as bad as the right one had, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t still hurting–quite a lot.

I hadn’t noticed the pain in the left eye, until the right one had subsided. When the initial pain of the worse eye was treated, it created room on my radar to feel the left eye pain. I ended up staying home from work that day, trying, largely in vain, to get some sleep. While the excruciating pain of the right eye was gone, the substantial pain in the left eye was significantly bothersome.


It happened again this weekend.

No…not the sleeping in my contact creating eye damage thing. I’m a little like Anne of Green Gables that way: “That’s the one good thing about me. I never do the same wrong thing twice.” Once was enough to prompt me to never make that error again—that much pain makes me a quick learner. 😉

What happened again this weekend was the “you only realize the other pain once the first one dies down” thing.

This weekend I spoke with someone I hadn’t spoken to in years…someone who was near and dear to me at one time. However, she became lost to me at a time in my life when I lost so much. It wasn’t an insignificant thing to lose her friendship—but it was just that the other losses were so much more significant, it hardly made it on the

But this weekend, when I had reason to speak to her about a matter, I heard her, and laughed with her, and had a chance to enjoy her. I realized in a way I hadn’t ever realized, how hard it was not to be friends with her. How much I missed her. How much I had lost when I lost her.

And I felt like I grieved that loss for the first time.

Which was weird, because, like I wrote, it happened years ago.

I’m not the only person this has happened to though. I have had clients wondering why, after losing a spouse, they find themselves crying more the second year than the first after the loss.

The second year is when a person notices the other secondary losses…she feels “out of the loop” as the group of couples that they always used to hang out with don’t include her when they purchase the tickets for the theatre, or she has little contact with his golfing buddies who no longer stop by their place for a beer after their game. Or when it snows, all the shoveling is up to her. Or how hard it is to open the can of pickles without help, or put the storm windows in, or how it seems hardly worth it at all to bother to make a stir fry—because the other family members won’t eat it, but when he was around, his appreciation for it seemed worth it. The secondary losses are real and painful, but often not immediately noticed.

That happens with a job…losing the paycheck and the meaning it gave was the big loss. Months later, a person begins to realize how they missed the annual fall event, or wonder how a fellow co-worker is doing, or misses the hilarious antics as recalled by another co-worker.

That happens with almost any loss, that it can be a “loss that keeps on losing”. The ripple effect of a loss can catch one unawares, and suddenly, in the middle of what is otherwise an ordinary day, one is quickly reminded of the effect of a loss.

No easy answers on this one, just a quiet aknowledgement that when the little secondary losses hit, they may not have the raw agony of the initial pain, but they sure sting.

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