Is All Grief the Same?
Is All Grief the Same?
This question has been going around and around in my head for a long time now. I’ve needed to write about it but oh…..what a contentious topic! I could just imagine how some might react:
“Are you saying your grief is worse than mine?”
“How can you ‘compare griefs’ – are you suggesting a hierarchy?“
“Don’t you dare judge my feelings when you don’t know me!“
Oh dear. [shudders] My fear of this reaction is why I haven’t broached the subject in the past. I have a strong self-protection instinct… but I also have a need to explore and understand what is going around in my head AND maybe what might help others to understand what’s going on for them too.
Perhaps I should continue to shy away from the topic, but our society doesn’t ‘do death’ very well at all, and I believe it should be something we talk about openly.
So here goes….. [braces herself]…..
I’ve experienced grief before. I have lost my father to cancer, a baby daughter during later pregnancy and a beloved niece in a car accident. Losing my husband has been different though. Compared to these earlier experiences, this journey has been a nightmare-filled chasm of dark horrors .
Losing other loved ones caused a deep heartache, but losing Norbert…oh, that cruelly ripped my heart and soul out of my life, leaving me with the indescribable emptiness of yearning and intense pain of longing.
“Blanket comparisons can’t be made for even parallel losses. Regardless of the type of loss, no one can know the extent of another’s pain and sorrow. Although grief is grief, how you experience it is as unique as you and me.”Comparing Grief
All grief is horrible, and clearly everyone experiences grief differently, but why does some grief cause more lifetime scars than others, to the point where a small proportion of sufferers never recover? I delved into the gloomy recesses of the internet, wandering through it’s many tunnels to look for some answers.
I confirmed that some people feel it has to do with the relationship you have with the person you lost, which would explain why a death of a parent may affect one sibling more than another, and the person’s spouse in a different way entirely.
” The son of a friend who’d lost her spouse was contemptuous of his mother’s grief, thinking she was over-dramatizing herself… But what he didn’t realise was that although they had lost the same person, they didn’t suffer the same loss. He’d lost a father he hadn’t been particularly close to, and his life didn’t change at all. Her life changed drastically…”All Grief is Not the Same
Still others felt it had to do with your closeness and how ’emotionally connected’ you were to the person who died.
“I have come to the conclusion that the amount of space the lost one takes up in your life and your heart determines the intensity of grief we feel. ”Comparing Grief
Much of the consternation and disquiet in my head has come about from well-meaning people saying to me in the early days “I know exactly how you feel. When my [insert relationship] died I was devastated.”
I don’t blame them though as before I got to experience this nightmare myself, I used to say something similar! It horrifies me now to think about the poor people who possibly suffered at my fumbled attempts at consolation. I now believe it’s better to simply say “I’m sorry for your loss“, rather than try to equate one loss with another that is different in nature.
I must admit I never went to this level though. One of the stories I came across in my research was written by a man who had lost his wife, and his best friend said “I feel for you mate. I felt the same when Jenny died.”
Jenny was his parakeet. Okaaaay. 😒
I was going down a particular wormhole of discovery, following links from one website to another when I came across something which… well…. triggered something for me as it made so much sense. In fact it made so much sense that I actually slapped my forehead with the palm of my hand.
Sorry to keep dumping quotes here, but this was the statement which leaped out at me:
“The death of a loved one isn’t just one single earth-shattering loss. In reality, it’s a tremendous loss, followed by a lot of smaller losses in its aftermath.”A Deep Dive into Secondary Loss
Of course! It’s like the after-shocks of an earth-quake and in all the time of my grief journey so far, I have never come across this term but it makes so much sense! I didn’t just lose Norbert the individual…I lost soooooo much more!
So I sat myself down with a coffee and made a list of some of my ‘Secondary Losses’ which have been on top of losing the person.
Wow! That ended up to be quite a list! I could have kept going but to keep things in perspective, during my research I read stories of how widows/widowers have lost their homes…their grandchildren….their fundamental faith belief…..and other devastatingly important aspects of their lives, so I shouldn’t feel too sorry for myself.
It’s quite a list though, and I feel it throws a much broader light on what it can mean to lose a loved one. It also adds a different dimension as to why it might be just as tough once you’ve passed the first anniversary.
Maybe too, these secondary losses are extra-hard for a grieving person as they often go unacknowledged and seemingly undervalued. Of course your friend is not going to say “I’m so sorry that you’ve lost your financial stability” or write in a card “My condolences for the loss of your sense of identity”. That would be quite ridiculous. 😂
No….nobody acknowledges these additional losses specifically but nevertheless they are as real as the primary loss and their ongoing impact makes the grief journey a very tough road.
The exercise was valuable for me, as it highlighted why losing my husband was so overwhelmingly more hellish than my previous experiences with grief. The sheer number and weight of secondary losses have had a huge impact and created ongoing after-shocks which will roll on ad infinitum.
I don’t think I’ve discovered the conclusive answer to any profound questions, but it feels good to have gotten all this out of my head. 😄 Personally, it has helped me to understand why it hurts/annoys me so much when I hear those words “I know how you feel“, and importantly, it has taken the sting out of them.
I’ve always believed that grief isn’t all the same, but now I feel that I’ve gained a bit more insight into why that might be.
What do you think? Please drop a comment in the box below as I would appreciate your thoughts on this subject. Yeah..it’s a bit contentious but let’s be brave together. 🥰
Marlene is an Australian widow who has written about all the good, bad and ugly stuff that happened after her husband Norbert died tragically. Marlene responds to all comments.