There’s a common response I encounter while supporting people dealing with loss of all kinds whether that be death, divorce, illness, etc. After vulnerably revealing a bit of their sadness they quickly jump to, “but I know someone out there has it worse than me”, and this signals the end to which they will discuss their emotions. It’s similar to the “I should just be grateful for ___” response which I’ve written about before. Gratitude is great but it is not a replacement for the grieving process.
Here are my concerns with the “someone has it worse” train of thought. I know it is well intentioned. But your loss is not diminished by the losses of anyone else. Other people will encounter loss of all kinds, but grieving is an individual process. They will be going through their own grief process and you have the right to go through yours.
I don’t think there is a point at which one loss is considered “most worthy” of grieving compared to all others. And I’m not sure that tucking away our feelings because “someone has it worse” actually benefits anyone. Loss is based on the attachment that was formed with that person, thing or concept. We would never say that this person, thing or concept was less worthy of grief than another.
It’s not about what marks higher on the loss scale. It’s about the very personal intensity of grief that we feel. And that intensity can vary sometimes in ways we at first can’t explain. Like how we can feel grief over the death or misfortune of someone we barely knew. Even days later the pain or sadness sits with us. If something is deeply affecting us, rather than deny it, what would happen if we instead became curious about what was really going on?
It’s become too easy to make that leap from considering others to tucking away our own emotions as if we’re selfish for tending to them. I worry that we are rushing through to the resolution part. Next time you are feeling grief, I encourage you to pause and be curious about your feelings and thoughts. It is messy and scary and painful, but we owe it to ourselves to roll up our sleeves and do the real and emotional work of grief. If we can accept our own vulnerability - that we can feel such an intense caring for something and then sadness when it’s lost - then we can begin to feel more connected to others who, at any time, may feel a similar emotional experience. The message is that you are not alone in the emotions that you feel. And to recognize that is to validate that you are having a normal human experience.
You have the right to your grief. Understanding this will help you to genuinely support or advocate for others at the time of their own loss. You’ll understand overarching themes. You’ll know that you cannot feel what they are feeling because you understand how deeply personal your own grief is. As a result, you honor their own personal process. Perhaps you’ll be able to better validate experiences that may seem very different from yours. You’ll know that no words will magically heal and that no gratitude or comparisons can resolve someone else’s pain. For someone who has experienced a loss, would it really help them to hear you say, “I’ve tucked away my own experience of loss because I think yours is worse than mine”? What if instead you can say, “I honor your loss”, “I would like to help support you through it”, or “your grief is valid”. To me these are more productive words. What if you became comfortable saying them to yourself?