When Grief Seems Insignificant by Comparison

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Comparisons are odious. ~ Old English Proverb

As news about the plant explosion in West, Texas and the bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon this past week continue to flood the airwaves, our hearts go out to the victims, survivors, and others who witnessed these horrific events, as well as to the people living in those places. As a nation we express our collective condolences, offer our heartfelt prayers, and work to contribute whatever we can toward their healing.

For those of us already struggling with grief, however, such catastrophic events unfortunately can give rise to feeling guilty for feeling bad, as if we don’t have a legitimate right to mourn our own individual losses.
One widow struggling with the recent death of her beloved husband expressed this very sentiment: “These bombings in Boston stop me right in my tracks," she said, "and I think of how insignificant my little world is compared to catastrophes that are occurring all around us.”

The fact that so many other problems are happening in the world at large does not alter the reality of what is happening in this woman’s life, and it does not diminish the validity of her concerns. It is simply pointless to compare the magnitude of one person’s loss with that of another.

Is it harder to live through a hurricane than an earthquake?

Would the death of a spouse be worse than the death of a parent?

Would losing a child be worse than losing a spouse?

Would a sudden, unexpected death be harder to accept than a long, slow, painful one?

And which is worse: loss of a leg, or loss of an arm?

Would you rather lose your eyesight or your hearing?

Your home or your job?

These losses are neither better nor worse, harder or easier, one from another — rather, they are each different from one another. There is not a person among us who can answer any of these questions honestly unless and until that particular loss has happened to us, and even then, it would be different for each one of us, depending on our own individual circumstances and the meaning we attach to what we have lost.

Grief is not just confined to losing a person through death. Intense feelings of loss can come from the ending of a marriage by separation or divorce. A move can produce feelings of grief. A rape. A job loss. Loss of a body part or body function. Financial loss. Loss of dignity and respect. Loss of a pet. One of the most difficult counseling situations I ever had involved Jonathan whose seeing-eye dog of ten years, Angel, died. Angel was Jonathan’s live-in partner, his dearest family member, his closest work associate, his trusted servant, his most faithful friend, an actual extension of himself, a literal part of his being — his eyes. When Angel died, all of that was lost.  ~ Douglas C. Smith, MA, MS, MDiv

I believe strongly that by learning about what is normal in grief, we’ll all come to a greater understanding of the reactions that accompany all the different kinds of loss we may experience in life, and we’ll learn to be more caring, accepting and tolerant of one another. We will come to recognize that grief is neither a contest nor a competition. For every single one of us, at this moment in time, our own loss is the worst that could happen to anyone. It is not our place to pass judgment on the strength or legitimacy of anyone else’s grief. Where there is loss, there is grief. Pain is pain. Only you can know the special place in your life and in your heart that was occupied by your loved one, and you are the only one who can measure just how much you have lost.

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

2 comments:

  1. Marty ~ I've had this conversation several times this week. In Illinois, many, many families are dealing with the aftermath of heavy rains. They are dealing with insurance matters, repairs and replacement of belongings due to flooded basements, leaking roofs, etc. We DO make sense of "life" by making comparisons ~ that's human nature ~ so, as we compare, we come to the conclusion that our "woes" don't compare to those facing life-altering, traumatic experiences. The problem is that denying, minimizing or repressing our feelings is terribly unhealthy. It's normal, natural (and, I think, necessary!) to be upset when we face disappointment or loss. As Dr. Alan Wolfelt suggests, mourning (mourning = sharing or "going public" with our grief) is the path to healing. Marty, you address this so well. (I'm sharing!)

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  2. Blessings to you, Lynne, and thank you! ♥

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