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.
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.