You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.
~J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
For three years I worked/interned/externed as a grief counselor for a local family grief support center. The clients I worked with were as young as four and as old as in their 70s. The losses ranged from parent loss to sibling loss to child loss to intimate partner loss. The kinds of deaths our clients loved ones experienced were cancers and heart attacks, car accidents and random shootings, and all forms of suicide.
We mostly offered groups, for appropriate age ranges and types of loss. One of our tenets for all the groups is: “We do not compare losses.” Meaning that grief is grief. Our person is gone and while the way they exited this life may have been dramatic or mundane, our hearts are broken all the same.
In all the groups I co-facilitated, this was never an issue. We set the boundary up front and no one ever tried to play the “My grief is better/worse than yours” game.
I’ve seen that game played out in life outside the center though. Hell, I’ve even played that game.
When we are hurting, when we are in the rawness of our grief, the immediate, and traumatic, impact of it, it can be hard to notice how others may be hurting, may have experienced similar loss, may be grieving right along side you with your loss.
Those early days and weeks and months of grief have us self-focused. Because our pain is so intense. And even if we need to function and care for others as we are feeling our own pain, the hurt, the what feels to be all consuming hurt, is ours and through this lens we look at the world.
So, it makes sense in those early days and weeks and months that we may deeply believe that our own pain is greater than another’s. That no one has ever suffered in this kind of rawness as we are. The no one could possibly understand what we are experiencing.
And as is often the case with the stories we tell ourselves in our heads, none of this is necessarily true.
It is true that no one has experienced the exact form of grief, in the exact way, that we each have. We are each individuals, with similar, yet vastly unique experiences.
Grief is part of being human. Loss is part of our lived experience.
And no matter what the loss is, it is uncomfortable at best, excruciatingly painful at worst. No matter the loss, grief comes and goes in waves that sometimes we feel we will drown in and others we are able to surf.
Yes, our personal experiences are unique, and they are also universal.
I talk more about this in the 12 minute video below.
This essay is the first in a three part series I have written exploring grief and loss, how it affects us, and how our culture attempts to stifle it. Here are links to the others in the series ::
On Grief :: Loss is Loss (this essay)
On Grief :: The Passage of Time (link coming soon)
On Grief :: Holidays, Anniversaries, and Other Triggers (link coming soon)