Multiple losses: How to Cope with Loss & Change

Multiple LossesWhen I first started facilitating bereavement groups, I sort of assumed that people would be coming for help for “just” one loss. Of course one loss is more than enough…it’s already too much. Yet so many grievers I met were experiencing multiple losses.

And while in most of my writings the word “loss” pertains only to the physical loss of a person, for the sake of this piece I’m going to discuss all types of losses. Because let’s face it, as hard as the tangible loss of a loved one is, so can the other losses we experience in life add up and tear us down just as swiftly.

Here are a few examples of the multiple losses a griever can face:

1. Divorce: Talk about not fair. Life is hard enough. Divorce is hard enough. And then the significant loss of a loved one as well? Whether you are in the middle of a divorce or trying to rebuild a life after a recent divorce has been finalized, the death of a loved can shake an already unsturdy foundation. How to get back on your feet when you haven’t even found your footing yet or don’t even know where you’re supposed to stand?

2. Loss of home: This can happen in a number of ways. Often it will be a child who is caring for a parent in the home. They’ve been doing it for years so they gave up their home and moved in to take care of Mom or Dad. So what happens when their loved one is gone? Siblings may come in and say that Mom and Dad’s house needs to be sold for the distribution of the estate. In other cases, following the loss of a spouse, a widow or widower may find they can’t take care of the house on their own, or can’t afford to keep it without their loved one’s income. So in the midst of losing someone so dear and so loved, the griever is also having to figure out…where do I go from here, and where am I supposed to live?

3. Death of a pet: Something interesting always happens when people talk about the death of a pet, especially in the walls of a bereavement group. As everyone goes around, introduces themselves and talks about who they lost, there may come a point where a griever will say, “I’m here because I lost my spouse in February. But just this last month I lost our dog too.” They often cry, sometimes very hard, and this is usually followed by an apology, “I’m sorry, I know it’s just a dog. It may sound so crazy when we’re here talking about all these other losses”. What’s not crazy is how many people quickly chime in and say, “it’s not crazy!” as everyone can agree that losing a pet is a very big and very significant loss. I find the people who lose a spouse can be hit sort of extra hard by this loss. Usually because it’s another “person” they shared the house with who is no longer there. Often because the pet was part of the family unit, something they shared with their spouse…another connection that’s now gone too.

4. Empty Nest: It’s incredibly hard to lose a spouse at a young age. Most of the young grievers I meet turn their time, love, and attention to their kids. But eventually it’s time for them to move out of the house, and then what? This can apply also to anyone who took care of a parent. Following the loss of a parent, there may still be their children to care for, but once their children are out of the house? A caregiver is simply lost without a person to care for and these multiple losses can mean a double hit on the griever’s sense of purpose and identity.

5. Loss of job/Retirement: People are amazing. If there is one thing I have learned in working in this field is just how amazing people are. I don’t care what it says on the news, I see real life examples every day of people giving up their lives to take care of the people they love. It happens all the time. Sometimes this can mean walking away from a job to be more available to care for an ailing loved one. It can mean passing on a promotion, or an opportunity for growth for fear it will take the caregiver away from home more often. Of course there are times that job loss is not a choice and if this happens after a loss, the griever can be left feeling like they just don’t know what to do with themselves. While our jobs are most often a means to afford the things we need, they are just as likely to be a source of our pride and identity too. A place where we can be someone other than “just” wife, mother and daughter. If we’ve retired from a career, and then lost a spouse soon after,  it can also mean more hours home alone with no place to go. Finally, the loss of a job can quite simply mean a loss of income. And when grieving the loss of a loved one, who has the mental energy it takes to be job hunting or starting something new?

6. Multiple losses of several loved ones, all within a relatively short period of time: And finally, the sad truth. Of all the multiple losses a person can experience or bring to discuss in a bereavement group, this is the one that I hear most often. Whether it’s the multiple losses of a parent, child, spouse, sibling or friend, there is no good combination and no easy way to cope with so much death. People who are losing their loved ones so close together start to feel like everyone around them is fragile. It becomes easy to lose faith that things could be okay, and it’s just too hard to pick up the pieces again when so many of the people we would normally turn to for support are the ones we have lost.

And now, the “now what?”. In previous writings I have discussed why grief is so hard and why it lasts so long, and that’s because so often I find  grievers come to a support group and say, “I don’t know why I’m having such a hard time”.

My answer?


This is the reason you’re having a hard time. Because it’s just so much, and a person can only deal with so much. Not only are you dealing with one major life event, you’ve had several others thrown at you all at the same time.

And the one thing these multiple losses have in common? Change…and for most there’s really nothing harder to deal with than that. Especially when it’s a change we didn’t want and didn’t ask for.

The key to coping with so much loss and so much change is to try and simplify. I often explain grief as one big messy ball of emotion. Just one big ugly feeling of “ugh”, where nothing feels good and with so much going on you can’t possibly know where to start coping.

Think of a messy and cluttered room. Picture the messiest and most cluttered room you could ever imagine- every corner and every part of that room filled and overflowing with books and papers and mail and boxes and clothes and shoes and hangers and laundry and sheets and blankets…just covering every inch of the floor, bed, dressers and shelves.

If you walked into a room like that, and you knew it was your job to clean it, most likely the first thing you would think is,”I don’t even know where to start”.

Coping with the multiple losses in our life can feel much the same way, and the solution for both is the same. Don’t look at the whole room all at once. Because if we look at the whole thing it can be totally overwhelming, and instantly exhausting. A lot of people walk into a room like that and feel that there’s no point in even trying to clean it…that they could never do it all, or that they don’t have what it takes. So instead, we need to focus on one small area, and take care of just one task at a time. Each one of these losses and life changes deserves its own time and attention of mourning and reflection. When feeling sad and overwhelmed by it all, rather than looking at the whole messy room, think: what can I deal with today?

If we’re going to try to ease the symptoms we need to find the cause. Anyone who has kids knows what’s it like when they complain of “not feeling good”. And what’s the first thing we do? Ask a lot of questions. “Does your head hurt? Is it your belly? Do you have a sore throat?”. We need to get to the bottom of specifically what’s bothering them if we’re going to even begin to know how to help or treat the symptoms.

Approach coping with multiple losses the same way. If today you’re feeling extra sad about the divorce – call your close friend who has just gone through a divorce herself, and plan a dinner out together. Having a hard time after retirement? Start looking into those volunteer opportunities you always wished you’d have the time to do. Suffering with the empty nest? Call the kids, or even better, plan a visit. If you’ve lost a pet? Find a shelter or rescue that could use a loving person to walk dogs. And if you’re dealing with multiple losses of loved ones? Give each of those losses their own time and acknowledgment. Find a way to honor them or remember them individually. Try not to lump all of the pain together as it may only serve to minimize the importance that each individual person played in your life.

And return to the idea of the messy room. Walk in slowly. Sit down, take your time and focus on one section at a time. You can only deal with what’s right in front of you. Don’t try and tackle it all at once and try not to let the size of the grief stop you from managing it.

Coping with multiple losses can be overwhelming. When dealing with so much, sometimes the only way to move forward is to truly face each issue, like each section of that room, one at a time…


Because multiple losses can be so common, we have created a forum specifically for those grievers who are coping with so much. You will find it here, along with the only people who can truly understand what you are going through.

Join us today.

32 thoughts on “Multiple losses: How to Cope with Loss & Change”

  1. This is me?
    Suddenly lost my husband of 21 years to a stroke. A month later my Dog of 10 yrs passed, now 16 months later my grandson burn 2 weeks after my husband passed has died. I had to find a new job with health ins. They asked me to do illegal things, now 3 jobs later all in 16 months. Now I am sending both my daughters off to college. Can’t even imagine being totally alone. I can’t stop crying. Anxiety attacks often with no meds. As I didn’t have ins. Oh yea, I was just served papers I am being sued over a loan my husband only had.
    Yes, this is my past 16 months.
    Both my parents have passed, no sisters, and no support or compassion from my brothers.
    Life is a blessing, but lately, don’t know if I can do this.

  2. I’m having a rough time getting over so many losses? Within the last 5 years I have lost my parents, my husband, both of his brothers that lived with us and his father that lived with us also? 3 months after my husband passed my dog was hit right before my eyes. It’s almost like I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I have my daughter and I thank God every day for that! But dealing with these losses has gave me PTSD? I’m praying for better days!

    1. Overwhelming is understated. In five years I have lost 8 loved ones, one being my son. Our immediate family of siblings and parents wiped out, gone. Its true- those you normally turned to, are the departed. We would finish with one servicezn to plan the next, then the next. I agree, I try and grief each one separately and individually give each their respective talking to, cry and focus on what they meant to me. I pray for God’s strength to make it one day at a time. I have the faith, the only faith- Gods hands to leave my sorrow with. I dont think about tomorrow, one day at a time. God Bless Us All!

  3. I have lost my father in law and my step mum and my step dad and my partner has had a stroke all within the last 8 weeks. How on earth can I support everyone at the same time.

  4. The loss of my granddaughter came suddenly. I couldn’t grief because I had to be strong for my daughter. One week later I have lost my colleague. I am overwhelmed but I don’t know what do.

    1. I have lost my grandma, mother (only parent I ever had), two of my aunts to cancer. My older brother was murdered when I was in the 5th grade (still remember my teacher telling me the news in the hallway). My uncle was murdered also…….so I totally get the whole not looking at the whole messy room thing but….I believe that to only work for so many tragedies though unfortunately….”God help me and my family to have the strength and courage to carry on” Thank you, and this actually gave some great insight on all of this mess. 🙏

  5. I am so moved by all of these stories. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in my own story. In 2001, I was diagnosed with brain cancer. 6 months later, my mother passed away. 24 months later, my dad took his own life. Several months later my wife filed for divorce and I lost my job. Fast forward 8 years, and it’s happening again. My second wife filed for divorce 12 months ago, and I lost my job again. I’m not sure I have ever truly allowed myself to heal from any one of these losses, much less all of this loss combined. I feel for you all, and I hope you are all feeling some level of support as you walk through your pain of you loss.

  6. Able to finally leave narcissistic abuser, walked away from home I built. stalked for 4 years, then began to have back and joint pain, soon, barely able to walk, lost my job, then another home retirement savings used to live on and medications before SS and state insurance. Humira was very expensive. Had 2 wonderful dogs, my companions, children, to care for and then died 4 months apart. My health; spinal stenosis with psoriatic arthritis. In 4 years time, I’ve lost 2 homes, my job, 2 wonderful dogs and my health. My 16 year old car, dead, so what is the sense of going on? I miss my dogs so very much, I’m alone, renting a room Andy just don’t want to live anymore

  7. My 21 year old son suddenly died and one year later my husband age 44 suddenly died, 9 months later my 42 year old sister died of brain cancer and 3 weeks later my 70 year old mother suddenly died. It all was and is so unbelievable. In the last five years since all this, I’ve lived on three different continents and three different US states plus both of my living children are now divorced and my family has fallen apart. Also, my daughter is now suffering with health problems. It has been so, so much and I found this post because I thought there must be others who have had multiple deaths. I hear over and over do not compare grief and I am not, but I feel like no one understand because these were all immediate family members. All four were very, very close to me. I do not dismiss others’ pain over grandmas, aunts, friends and dogs but I want to find someone who understands my pain.

    1. You are not alone. There are many just like yourself. I have lost a lot also and although I know I have learned from my losses. I wouldn’t wish sorrow as an educational tool on anyone? But without knowing darkness u could never truly understand the light. I always remind myself that we are all on borrowed time just like our forefathers and mothers that came before us. LIFE REALLY IS SHORT. Be strong and u will make it! Do it as and example to your kids as and for yourself. It will get better and the mf saga continues but no one gets out alive and I say THANK GOD to that. I LOVE LIFE but this ones not forever that is for sure!! I only hope I don’t suffer to long when its my turn and Death comes for me? But I will take my licks like I always have. Trust in God and the good you hear inside you.You know it we all do! It will guide u. Mistakes will happen as they always have!! Best of luck sister you got this!! You WILL be alright. Life is hard for a reason! Remember to help others along the way once u r doing better!!

    2. I am so, so sorry to hear of your losses. I can only start to imagine the process of grief you must be experiencing. I hppe you can find a strong and empathetic therapist. I have had some accumulated losses.. Mainly my marriage, substantial financial loss over the years, 2-3 children struggling w addiction and my Dad passing away in March 2019. Losing my Dad was the breaking point for me. I wish I had answers..

  8. In April, 2017, I found out the job I had had (and loved) for 25 years was going to end in December. I had to stay working with a good attitude and good results to get the small severance at the end. I loved that job and far too much of my identity was wrapped up in it. It also paid well and I was the main breadwinner for my family. The next month (May, 2017), my husband’s osteosarcoma (that had taken his leg 14 years earlier) was back, this time in his lung. Two months later (July, 2017) one of our three dogs died. One month later (August, 2017) we became empty nesters. Six months later (February, 2018), our oldest dog died with me holding her and telling her how great her life had been. Five months later (July, 2018) our third dog died. She was very sick and I took her to the vet and they put her to sleep. A lady in the parking lot hugged me. She had no idea of all the loss and how much I needed someone to hug me. Like an angel. One month later (August, 2018) my husband died. I watched his beautiful person (inside and out) die slowly over months after the drugs stopped working, in front of my eyes. There was no hope left for him. Then, just to see if I would break, two months later (October, 2018) my cat died. He was the coolest cat and everyone in the neighborhood knew him. So, in 18 months, I lost the love of my life for 33 years, all four of my pets, the wonderful job I’d had for 25 years, and was left with an empty house (nest). Yet, I’m still here. I often feel overwhelmed, directionless, and just so incredibly sad. But, I often still have hope for the blank canvas that I’ve been presented. I don’t see that I have any other choice.

    1. I love the last words, “hope for the blank canvas I was presented” It’s inspirational… time to paint a new picture and it is the painter’ choice whether it be dark or bright. Thank you.

  9. I’m 32. My mother died 9 years ago from cancer and passed away about 11 months after she was diagnosed. It was a devastating time (and still is to some extent but it has ‘numbed’ somewhat). About 1 year and 8 months ago, my partner of 10 years and I decided to separate and I went through months of losing my mind sleeping with different people, moving country, trying to work things out with him and failing (thankfully we remained friends) and 4 months ago my father died. Soon our family home of 30 years will be sold. There is a lot of loss at a young enough age and don’t really know anyone who’s been through a similar experience, so it’s all very new territory for me and am struggling to navigate. Love the metaphor of the messy room though and going to keep it in mind when it all feels too much.

    1. Hi. I know your post was last year but it seems to be the closest one to how I’m feeling at my age. I am 32 now. I lost my dad to cancer 2.5 years ago and just a year ago last month, I lost my brother and only sibling to suicide. The deaths were only 14 months apart. That’s 2/3 of my immediate blood family members. Now in the immediate wake, I’m also finding out I can’t get pregnant and go for surgery next month after a year of trying. After all I’ve been through, I can’t get over the unfairness this month after month loss has brought. Plus the strain on my husband and my relationship. Why do I have to go through this too on top of my family’s deaths while everyone else around me is getting pregnant so easily. Anyway, I’m desperate to find someone that understands.

  10. Have read each of your stories…and they brought me to tears. So sorry for all the losses you have had.

    I have also had many losses…worst one being loss of my husband almost 15 years ago. Then both of my parents, my brother, close aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and also pets.

    Each loss brings back the feelings of the previous losses, and bring me down again. Have also moved and downsized. My sons were teenagers when their dad died, and had to grow up fast. One has moved out of the area, but thankfully, my other son lives close by. And they have a daughter, my 1st grandchild, now 15 months old, and she has added much joy to my life.

    Next year I am hoping to retire, so will again bring changes, but do hope to volunteer to help fill some of my time. Blessings to all of you!

  11. In the last few years my sister was murdered, my other sister died of cancer, my husband divorced me. These people were my best friends. I no longer have anyone to turn to. My husband got both our houses in the divorce. I had to leave the homes I loved and designed and decorated over years. I live in an apartment now. My one son lives with his father because that’s where he has always lived. My other son lives on his own. I no longer want to live. The pain and loneliness are crushing. I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t want to put my children through that. But the pain is so bad. I’m only 55 years old and I feel like an old person with so many losses. I’m looking for a reason to go on.

  12. Grief is a journey. A journey we can’t predict day to day. One day it’s ok, or seems ok for awhile. Then a memory appears and the what’s ifs and if onlys happen and you wonder how you could have changed things Reality is in the present. Those what ifs are in the past. Life is what you have not what you had. Life is what you make it. The sun still rises and sets. There is that brief moment when you first wake up when you forget all that was…. yes I have experienced tremendous loss. The loss of my son and within two weeks the loss of my mother

  13. I feel like my loses are so varied. I work at an Assisted living community for people with Dementia. We have lost 23 residents this year. Three in the last week. I have had a parting of ways with my mom in the last 3 months and lost my dog of 13 years a week before Thanksgiving. We lost my in-laws nephew (19) lost in a fatal car accident a month ago. It is a lot. I am trying to stay with the positives in my life. Planning a wedding for my daughter, having holidays in our new home… However it is a lot to take in and emotional to talk about.

  14. I feel soo bad for everyone who has experienced multiple losses. It’s just so wrong to try to deal with one death let alone multiples. 2019 was devastating for me. My father died of a massive heart attack in July and 2 weeks later our 40 year old son-in-law died from massive brain damage after going into a diabetic coma, leaving our 38 year old daughter to care for their 9 and 3 year old sons. Then after leaving a benefit for our son-in-law my brother wreaked his motorcycle and was killed. I feel like everyone around me is going to die and I feel like I can’t get over all of these at the same time. Specifically my brother’s death is haunting me as I spoke to him before he left the benefit and I tried to stop him from riding his motorcycle (he’d been drinking), but I couldn’t stop him. I’m not sure if I am suffering so much because I couldn’t stop him or because of the visual I have of him laying in the ditch (I wasn’t allowed to get to the accident site but I have visions of him laying there). I don’t go a day without crying and soo sad as he left 4 children (3 adults {who’s mother died 2 years ago – leaving them without a parent} and 1 minor child). I am dealing with his estate and his house with all his belongings and that he’s just suddenly not there anymore. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

  15. I am so grateful to have come across this grief message. I never thought of taking one piece of my grief and mourn, then reflect. I have been thinking of the whole picture and got overwhelmed. No one ever said this to me, not even my therapist. Thank you so much.

  16. I do not talk about this. I try to focus on the future now, but my dad is dying and one more feels like too much. My mother died in 2012, then my nephew killed himself in 2015. He had the same mental illness that never responded well to medication – like me. My husband of 10 years killed himself in 2016 three weeks before our twins 6th birthday. He suffered from depression for decades before I met him; but his suicide is something that took me completely by surprise.
    I lost his family in the aftermath of his death and I have never been supported by my family.
    After he died, I felt like I lost everything I had worked for and the future I thought we cared about.
    I survived and survive for my wonderful kids, who lost so much as well, but were young. I feel like they lost the mother I dreamed of being and they are stuck with single mom me with no support or help to give them a good life.
    Now my dad is dying a few states away. We are not close – it just brings things full circle and another goodbye.
    I do not feel l can go through it again, so I keep to myself. I do not have any real friends or adults to even talk to. Having a mental illness made a social life difficult, but now I just do not think I can invest my heart. I gave my husband my all, and my heart.
    I have thought about it a lot in the three and half years since his death. I am glad to be alive. I am glad I loved him and knew him. I feel that way about my birth family as well. I am glad I knew my dad.
    I am grateful to God for helping me get through and never leaving me alone. I am so grateful for my son and daughter.
    I have had enough loss to last a lifetime.

  17. As i read every ones comments, it reinforces the knowledge that I and the remainder of my family are not alone in these times of overwhelming losses and changes in life. My father died years when I was 18 .My mom,my husbands parents died 25 years later within 3 years of each other. so many life changes -empty nest, hormonal changes financial losses I eventually went into a depression. I was put on so many meds to help . One day I was was walking down the street not really caring if I lived or died at the time while I had believed In God and Jesus I didn’t have a relationship with them. This day I just stopped in the road and talked to Jesus and told him I was so deep in a hole to pull me out. He did Glory to God I got off the meds started getting into scripture my daughters and husband gave me so much support. . Years passed In 2011 my oldest sister died of breast cancer in 2011 my husband was diagnosed with a rare cancer, In 2014 he passed- he had been the sole provider so everything house,land went back to the bank.His insurance policies had either been cashed in or collapsed. So I left the homestead and moved in with one of my married daughters.Not a year after my husband died my youngest brother was diagnosed with lung cancer I became his caretaker and he died within the year in my arms
    .In 2015 my pet chihuahua of 15 years died. Two daughters developed rare blood clots that extended from their calves to there abdomen. No damaged done but they now have this dvt as part of their health history.
    In 2017 my oldest brother passed from a long heart
    disease battle. So here we are 2020 yesterday one of my younger sisters died within a month from what was thought to be a stroke but an aneursym
    So many close family deaths in such a short time. I think the only way that I am able to cope with all of this loss is the knowledge of God’s promise that I will see them all again and there will be no more tears or suffering or death. The hardest of the deaths has been My husband of 44 years. Even when all of these losses, I look at the blessings and accept that the God is in control and go forward. I will cry I will have my memories and I will think life sucks but in reality as my husband used to say we are just passing through this world so I hold on to God’s promises. So I understand what everyone is feeling just know that your loved ones know that you loved them and they loved you and we will see them again.

  18. So many wonderful souls going through life’s journey carrying the blessings and the burdens. My life changed in January 2017 when I got into a car accident and developed chronic headaches. My lawyers screwed me over and I’m having to pay out of pocket for treatment till this day. 6 months later my dad dies of stage 4 prostate cancer. June 2018 my wife files for divorce. Here I am today, typing this in pain, counting my blessings. It gets real tough everyday thinking, I’m 32, will my life be like this forever? I’m trying my best to have a forward looking mindset but it’s tough, having a good memory, my mind is constantly playing tricks with me reminding me of past situations. The headaches are painful, it has disabled me and I feel extremely lost. I know God only gives us what we can handle but sometimes u think, is being in pain for life my path now? God and the universe bless each and every one of you, you are all warriors for continue to thrive and survive through your daily battles. I pray that these trials and tribulations make you stronger.

  19. I’m 21 years old. My friend group consists of 5 people including myself. In February the only other girl in the group passed away in her sleep. This week, the three guys in the group all died from covid-19. I’m the only one left. One of the guys was who I considered my solemate. We would spend hours planning our future. Getting married having a million kids. And now he’s gone and I’m all alone. Two weeks ago all the guys were fine. Now they’re dead. I don’t even know where to start the grieving process.

  20. Where do I begin I lost my brother at age 17 from a football accident than a few years later lost my first husband at age 21 left to raise 2 children remarried years later had 3 more children lost my daughter from heart defect on her 20th birthday than my sister passed away my father died in my arms and than held my Moms hand till she took her last breath and about a year and a half ago my husband suddenly died on my living room floor from a massive heart attack at the age of 65,I tried to save him, 41 years of marriage I’m still standing but there are days when it just all gets to be to much and now I am leaving our home of 25 years I’m ok with that but it’s all so bitter sweet I cannot stop crying and I want, to there are days when all wanted was to lay on the floor and stop breathing but that never happened,I’m asoldier and I keep moving but next month is my 70th birthday so where do I go from here? my grown kids have been there for me but they cant even begin to no the walk I have walked nor do I want them to no but ya I would like to no one question why was I picked to endure so much loss in my life

  21. I found this online and I am struggling. I lost my brother las week .He was the last of my immediate family. A slew of loses in such a short time.. my dad. then my mom.. my brother and now its just me. I have nobody. Its hurt so much and I feel all alone right now 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *