This week I had a rather miserable experience with someone supposedly in the bereavement industry. I say supposedly because she seemed a bit of a fraud (ok, not a bit) and broke the cardinal rule of grieving: comparing one person's grief to someone else's.
Now I'm not going to say I'm innocent of this infraction. In the early days of my grief journey, I found myself doing this quite a bit. A great deal of that came from a place of confusion and heartache and, frankly, a deep desire to actually find someone I could relate to, who was going through exactly what I was going through.
Of course I never did find that person because, as I learned, you can't. No two grief journeys are the same. No two losses are the same. No two loved ones are the same. What we do have, are shared themes. The feelings of hopelessness, despair, anger. Asking ourselves over and over what happened and why. Wondering where that person is now. You get the idea. These are the things that bond us in our loss.
Now I'm not about to declare that all grief is the same either. I've lost grandparents, pets, friends, and a husband. Losing my husband was definitely the hardest for me. Emphasis on the for me. As I said, every person is different. Some people may experience what has been dubbed, "complicated grief". This often occurs when the death is violent, sudden/unexpected, or occurs at a very young age. It can be so shocking to the bereaved, they experience a traumatic type of grief, impacting every area of their life for prolonged periods.
After working with memebers of the widowed community for the last couple years, I have heard, time and time again, the debate rage over which is worse: a sudden death or one after a long illness. In fact, I heard a fellow widow say it just the other day - that their loss was much harder because they had to see their spouse suffer for so long. Not only is this statement offensive because it minimizes the grief of those who have had sudden losses, but it is factually incorrect. Numerous studies have been done to evaluate which type of loss is more difficult to overcome. When I say numerous, I mean dozens and dozens. The conclusion? Every single study declared their results inconclusive. With a long drawn out illness you must watch your spouse suffer in pain, losing their dignity, their health, their happiness. With a sudden loss, you may be utterly unprepared, never even getting to say goodbye. You see where I am going with this? They both suck. Period.
In getting back to my little incident this week, the "professional" told me that losing my husband didn't even compare to losing a child. That losing a child is ten times worse. She even said, "You can always go out and get another spouse." Silly me, I must have passed that aisle in the grocery store: Replacement Husbands. Complete with handy tool belt, socks to leave lying around, and on sale now!
I asked her if she'd ever lost either a husband or a child. No, she hadn't. When I asked her how she could possibly know which was worse, she told me that as a mother, she knew. Which, to me, would sort of be like saying that as a wife, I knew losing a husband was worse. It was ridiculous.
Her comments were so hostile and antagonistic (not to mention completely ignorant), it took pretty much everything in me not to upend her coffee table and scream, "HULK SMASH!" She proceeded to tear me a new one for a good 20 minutes while my blood pressure shot through the roof and I mentally slipped away to my happy place (lalalala la la la la la la laaaaa). I tried to calmly and rationally explain that while I had never lost a grown child, I had lost a baby, and they both sucked. That grief was grief and you can never possibly imagine the pain of losing a spouse, until you go through it yourself (something I recognize about losing a child and the primary reason I wouldn't argue that one is worse). It was all for naught, however. I ended up leaving, tears streaming down my face, storming back to my car (Sidenote: Sorry to the poor man I was walking behind who kept looking over his shoulder at me looking more and more terrified).
It was amazing that after all these years, someone's ignorance like that could still get to me. And so much! I was distraught the rest of the day and ranted about it to anyone who would listen for the rest of the week. The lack of empathy and total lack of professionalism where shocking.
So what makes people fly off the handle and enter into these silly competitions of comparing their grief? (Or in her case, comparing the grief of other people, not even her own)?
Partly I think it is a lack of awareness. Sometimes this is just a natural part of the early grieving process - we only see our pain because it is so big, it blocks out anything else (or anyone else). For some, I think it is a way of making themselves feel better. If my grief is worse than anyone else's, it explains why I haven't gotten out of bed in four days and my hair still smells like Cheetos. For others, perhaps like the woman I spoke to, they want to be the expert. They want to sound authoritative and more knowledgeable than anyone else. Or maybe they are just uncaring asshats. Who knows.
Because, you see, the My-Grief-Is-Bigger-Than-Your-Grief Competition only has losers. No winners.
Because grief sucks.
Whether you lost a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, it doesn't matter. There are so many factors that can impact grief: where you are at in your life, your relationship with who you lost, unresolved issues or feelings, watching them suffer, losing them suddenly, not getting to say goodbye, and so on and so forth. Every loss is so unique that "measuring" the grief is impossible.
Not to mention you can alienate and hurt the people around you, quite badly.
So if you ever find yourself accidentally letting slip a My-Grief-Is-Bigger-Than-Your-Grief, I urge you to take a moment, consider the person in front of you, and put yourself in their shoes. Try to imagine their pain, feel their grief.
It's awful too.