Comparing Grief and Why We Shouldn’t do It

General / General : Eleanor Haley


Grief-friends – this is a simple article about comparing grief and why you shouldn’t do it. The grief-comparison game is common among people who’ve experienced loss, and unfortunately, it’s a competition everyone loses. 

I’m worried this may come off as a lecture, so I want to say upfront that most people, us included, naturally get caught up in comparisons. We’re accustomed to learning about life by watching the people around us. We use our family, friends, and community members as reference points to better understand and define ourselves. 

So sure, when we experience a loss, many of us find ourselves comparing our grief to others’ and our perception of their loss experiences. The problem is, you cannot compare grief and loss in the same way you might equate measurable facts like weight and height. Grief isn’t objective or quantifiable, and one doesn’t undergo specific amounts of suffering, depending on the type of loss they experience.

Grieving people generally have one thing in common; they’ve experienced loss. Beyond this, their experiences vary widely because grief is a subjective experience influenced by many factors. To focus on comparing grief only the basis of nature or type of loss, and ignore the many other significant factors related to the grieving person and who or what they lost, is an error in reasoning.

There’s danger in placing losses on a grief hierarchy because, ultimately, a person or group of people gets relegated to “less than” status. Sadly, in the context of grief, the “less than” label can come with a lot of baggage, like the implication that someone is less than deserving of support or less than justified in feeling and acknowledging their grief. 

We all experience loss throughout our lives. Some losses are relatively easy to cope with and integrate, and some turn our lives inside out. Regardless of where the experience falls on the spectrum – loss is loss, and grief is grief. Loss and grief don’t have to be severe enough to be acknowledged as such, and there’s no threshold one has to meet to feel grief-like things.  

Comparing Grief

All grief is important. All grief can exist.

Grief is a universal human experience, and yet, it’s always different from person to person. So grief feels immensely significant and remarkable to the individual, but it’s also no more or less important than anyone else’s in the grander scheme. Ahhh…grief is such a paradoxical experience.

Of course, most of us, on some level, want the depth of our pain to be validated or recognized because that is our truth. Loss can be a world-shattering experience, and some people find the notion that their life-altering experience could be placed in the same category, and maybe even share some similarities, with losses they deem as being “small” feels almost offensive.

But grief doesn’t need to be any worse than anyone else’s for it to be valid, significant, special, or important. Someone’s grief over losing a job, dream, relationship, or pet may seem different or more manageable than your own – but their loss doesn’t cease to exist simply because it could be worse. Further, the existence of someone else’s loss has no bearing on your own suffering. It’s just something someone else is feeling. There’s enough room in the world for all the love and all the pain.  

Comparing grief only seems to draw unnecessary boundaries between people who are otherwise in a position to empathize and support one another. No, you can’t know what anyone else is going through, but you can understand what it is like to feel that kind of suffering because you’ve felt it too.

If there’s any benefit we can take from grief being a universal experience, it should be that we’re able to have compassion and empathy towards what others are going through. And we know the value of honoring and respecting the significance of each other’s losses.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

Let’s be grief friends.

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7 Comments on "Comparing Grief and Why We Shouldn’t do It"

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  1. Sheila Edwards  December 5, 2020 at 2:57 pm Reply

    I found this article to be very enlightening. I am always making excuses for my grief & that others have more grief than I do. So I should stop complaining & get on with it! It’s as if I am not allowing myself to grieve. I suffer from depression & so when I am down I crawl into my hole & stay there. This yr I lost my Mum in LTC. My Dad in 2018. My husband John & I have lost 11 friends from January to November so far. It has been a tough year. It’s so difficult to be positive when you experience death over & over. We have our faith, friends & our Cockapoo Penny to support us. That is a blessing!

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    • IsabelleS  December 7, 2020 at 10:42 am Reply

      Sheila, I’m so sorry for the losses you have been forced to endure. You’re right… There is no use in making comparisons! That being said, it’s so normal to compare and to want to invalidate our own right to grieve. No matter what, please know that your grief is completely valid. I’m glad you can count your blessings even in the face of such losses. All the best to you.

  2. Ellen  December 3, 2020 at 1:55 pm Reply

    This website has been a lifesaver for me. And this particular article was so spot on and helpful.
    Throughout the last 25 years, I have experienced every type of loss there is. Both parents, a child, beloved friends and much loved and cherished pets. Yes, some people simply can’t comprehend someone mourning the loss of their pets. And even though he didn’t pass away, I mounted the loss and the end of a 25 year marriage. The betrayal, lies and deceit was equally painful and truly a death as well.
    I have come to learn and accept that grief is universal and a road that all of us must travel at one point or another. It is also very personal, and nobody can tell you….”hasn’t it been long enough.” I’m sure we have all heard that.
    Even though we find a way to carry on with our lives, because we must, more often than not the pain never leaves us. And this time of year is particularly hard.
    I do my best to be compassionate and understanding of anyone who is grieving, regardless of the circumstances.

    Thank you so much for this website. It has truly made a difference.

    • IsabelleS  December 4, 2020 at 1:59 pm Reply

      Ellen, I’m so glad to hear that this website has brought you some comfort! Thank you for taking the time to comment and to share your story/perspective. I’m truly so sorry to hear about the multiple losses you experienced. It sounds as though you are navigating grief with grace. All the best to you!

  3. Lynn Bennett  December 3, 2020 at 12:32 pm Reply

    I am a suicide loss survivor of a little over three years, and facilitate a suicide loss specific support group. In a recent meeting the topic of discussion turned to the word “grief” as it is being used in media this year to explain how the country is dealing with life before and after Covid, i.e ‘the new normal’. Most of us found we were offended by this as it feels like an appropriation of a very specific word which should stay within the realm of this who have actually lost someone. Using it to describe a general loss of normalcy (which will eventually return, in a way our loved one will not) just felt rotten to most of us.

  4. Wendy  December 3, 2020 at 11:20 am Reply

    Thank you for this. Such a difficult topic.

  5. Carmella L Russell  December 2, 2020 at 9:48 pm Reply

    So very true!

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