Friday, August 15, 2014

Each grief is unique

We live in a culture that encourages comparison.

My car is better than yours.
Your house is bigger than mine.
Her grades are better than his.

I think this is a basic part of what it is to be human that has been vastly exploited by the machines of commerce and power. We have become so accustomed to these machines and pressures that we compare everything, down to the smallest actions and most intimate details.

My neighbor's lawn is greener and more even than mine.
Your mother's scrambled eggs are better than your own.
My little toe is prettier than yours.

And so on. It gets ridiculous.

The comparison I am encountering most frequently these days is this: What I'm going through doesn't compare to what you are, but...

This makes me nuts for several reasons.

  1. One grief is never comparable to another. The loss of my husband is my experience. The loss of your dog or job or marriage or parent is yours. Each experience is utterly and terribly unique. We each process, understand and grow at different rates. There is no map, no manual for this. Yes, there are some similar emotions and maybe similar timelines, but our individual griefs are tied into our whole being and each whole being brings their own history, their own strengths and weaknesses and their own ability to process into the equation. 
  2. Telling me your grief means you understand mine doesn't often help. Because each situation is different, each grief is different. What's more, if you use an example like the loss of your goldfish I have to work to remind myself to be compassionate because at least you are trying. That effort distracts me from the moment and means I chastise myself to remember that I don't know the context of your grief. In so doing I pay less attention to you and to my feelings and instead am busy justifying why you thought the loss of a goldfish and a husband are comparable. They aren't comparable because each grief is different.
  3. Comparing in general is isolating when I most need connection.
    I feel as though I have to reassure you that your grief is legitimate and take care of you when I am already weakened and in need. Because each grief is different it would be much easier to just know you have grieved and been through your own version of this process. Maybe that's what you meant, but by comparing, I suddenly am comparing too and don't want to be. 
  4. There are no winners in grief.
    We don't need to compete or compare. When your goldfish died when you were five it broke your heart because it belonged to your best friend who had moved away. That could have shaped your whole life. I don't know. All I need to know is that you care. That you want to connect with me. If you want to tell me about your grief that's usually fine, but we don't need to throw down to see who is hurting more.
We all have grieved something. If we stop comparing maybe we can just be present with one another, we can comfort each other, we can remember that grief is an integral part of human experience and that is enough. 

(20 weeks. I miss you.)

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. So true, so very true. Thank you, Laura.

  2. Found this on-line the other day- it's about the rule of thirds for the bereaved:

    "Keep in mind the rule of thirds: one-third of your friends will be supportive of your need to mourn, one-third will make you feel worse, and one-third will neither help nor hinder."

    --From Alan D. Wolfelt, Healing Your Grieving Soul : 100 Spiritual Practices for Mourners

    This makes me think of the saying that "fore warned is fore armed." I've been noticing how people deal with me, and I think
    Alan Wolfelt's observation of "thirds" is pretty true. It doesn't take long for people to show me what category they're in. I guess I'm grateful that one in three actually care. I keep it short & lite with the rest. I think the key is to not take them personally and hope they're not the ones I run into when I'm having a bad day and feeling really needy.

    Glad that I have got at least 3 friends who can be silent with me in my moments of despair & confusion, who can stay "with" me in my grief & who can tolerate not knowing, not comparing, not curing, not healing and face with me the "reality of our powerlessness".


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