THE HIERARCHY OF GRIEF
“Don’t compare yourself to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.”
– Regina Brett
“My grief is worse than your grief” sounds like a kindergarten playground retort. Is it possible that we have set up a competition about grief? Can it be that there is a hierarchy that rates pain on a metric scale? This myopic vision of grief is so warped it is hard to believe it exists.
There is clearly an unspoken hierarchy of grief which exists in our world. The grief dealing with the death of a child or spouse, rated on some sort of manufactured “painometer,” seems to trump the death of a pet or even an elderly parent. Our society appears to rank grief on an arbitrary and contrived scale assigning points for anguish, torment, and suffering. Putting a value system on sorrow and misery is defeating and doesn’t legitimize one’s grief.
We all feel our grief totally and completely, and comparing it to another’s diminishes our own feelings of loss and leaves us feeling emptier. Grief comparisons invalidate one’s suffering and diminish the grief process which is so necessary to restoration and finding a new reality without your loved one. Each person feels grief differently. Grief is like a snowflake where no two are alike. When my husband Peter died, I didn’t want to hear “I know just how you feel, my mother died.” No one can feel the intensity of what you feel and the thought that they can compare it, is insulting and invalidates the grief one is feeling. I also experienced another insensitivity when someone compared her divorce to my loss. She actually had the audacity to say, “well at least you didn’t feel rejected.” Divorce is loss and should be soundly grieved, but to compare it to another type of loss is fruitless and hurtful. No one can know how the other feels in their sadness. No one can sit in your shoes and understand the loss. We can’t comparison shop grief and give it ranking or it defeats the entire process.
A grief competition has no upside. There are no winners, since we have all lost. By comparing one grief to another on a penultimate suffering scale, we devalue our own grief. Grievers are obviously the “Biggest Losers.” By reducing the competitive edge in grief, we can better understand how to deal with our own pain, and be kinder to others’ journeys through the valley of grief. We don’t want to hijack someone’s grief through clichéd comparisons. We don’t want to depreciate the feelings of another.
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