When Grief Seems Insignificant by Comparison

The First Year of Grief: Help for the JourneyThe First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey

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When Grief Seems Insignificant by Comparison

© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

As news about last month’s massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear problems in Japan continue to flood the airwaves, our hearts go out to the Japanese people. As a nation we express our collective condolences, offer healing prayers, and work to contribute whatever we can toward their relief and reconstruction efforts.

Unfortunately for those of us already struggling with grief, however, such catastrophic events can give rise to feeling guilty for feeling bad, as if we don’t have a legitimate right to mourn our own individual losses.  One young man struggling with a potential breakup with his girlfriend found himself in this position recently. “I feel silly that I’m pouring my emotions to you,” he wrote, “because when I look at what the Libyans, New Zealanders and Japanese people are currently going through, it seems like those are real problems. My being insecure with my role in my girlfriend’s life seems pretty insignificant in comparison.

  • The fact that so many other problems are happening in the world at large does not alter the reality of what is happening in this young man’s life, and it does not diminish the validity of his concerns. It is simply pointless to compare the magnitude of one person’s loss with that of another.
  • Is it harder to live through a hurricane than an earthquake?
  • Would the death of a spouse be worse than the death of a parent?
  • Would losing a child be worse than losing a spouse?
  • Would a sudden, unexpected death be harder to accept than a long, slow, painful one?
  • And which is worse: loss of a leg, or loss of an arm?
  • Would you rather lose your eyesight or your hearing?
  • …Your home or your job?

These losses are neither better nor worse, harder or easier, one from another — rather, they are each different from one another. There is not a person among us who can answer any of these questions honestly unless and until that particular loss has happened to us, and even then, it would be different for each one of us, depending on our own individual circumstances and the meaning we attach to what we have lost.

Grief is not just confined to losing a person through death. Intense feelings of loss can come from the ending of a marriage by separation or divorce. A move can produce feelings of grief. A rape. A job loss. Loss of a body part or body function. Financial loss. Loss of dignity and respect. Loss of a pet. One of the most difficult counseling situations I ever had involved Jonathan whose seeing-eye dog of ten years, Angel, died. Angel was Jonathan’s live-in partner, his dearest family member, his closest work associate, his trusted servant, his most faithful friend, an actual extension of himself, a literal part of his being — his eyes. When Angel died, all of that was lost . –Douglas C. Smith, MA, MS, MDiv

I believe strongly that by learning about what is normal in grief, we’ll all come to a greater understanding of the reactions that accompany all the different kinds of loss we may experience in life, and we’ll learn to be more caring, accepting and tolerant of one another. We will come to recognize that grief is neither a contest nor a competition. For every single one of us, at this moment in time, our own loss is the worst that could happen to anyone. It is not our place to pass judgment on the strength or legitimacy of anyone else’s grief. Where there is loss, there is grief. Pain is pain. Only you can know the special place in your life and in your heart that was occupied by your loved one, and you are the only one who can measure just how much you have lost.

Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC is the creator and instructor of these grief eCourses:

And these grief eBooks (among others):