I recently had a friend who reads this blog stop me and say “although it does not compare to what you’ve been through” they find some solace in these posts while grieving the end of a long marriage. In my not so humble opinion, the person was right that the grief over the loss of a child is the worse loss a person can suffer. Of course, since that is my particular grief, that makes sense to me.
Yet grief does not belong to any one type of loss. My wife and I have been married nearly 35 years and if were suddenly divorced I would grieve the loss of the person who has been with me most of my life. I’ve been working at the same college for 30 years and if they fired me I would feel more than the loss of a job, but the grief unveiled in a loss relationship.
I remember all too clearly the day we realized there were no more viable options left for Oliver’s treatment. The doctor asked Oliver if he wanted to continue with the treatment even though it was not working. It is a tough question to ask a 6-year-old, but the doctors trust their patients and Oliver was always actively involved in his treatment. He said he did not want to continue. The doctor asked Oliver if he knew what was going to happen. “I’m going to die,” was his clear answer. They talked a little more and then the doctor told Oliver he would not have to keep coming to the hospital. And then the tears came. Oliver could face death, but he didn’t want to lose his friends at the hospital. He was grieving a relationship that had formed over three years in which the child life specialists, doctors, nurses, techs, and everybody associated with the hospital became his community.
Grief does not belong to death. It belongs to loss.
Grief does not belong to death. It belongs to loss. Parents look at their teenager and grieve the loss of the infant they once held in their arms. Long-time friends torn apart by a simple conflict grieve the loss of friendship. The 20-year factory worker suddenly laid off grieves the loss of trust they had with the company they were committed to for so long. War veterans grieve the loss of the bond created when serving in battle with others, a service in which they literally depend on each other for life.
The question over who grieves more is really not helpful. True, if you equate the loss of your dog to the loss of my son, I’m going to say you just don’t get it (and I grieve the loss of dogs). But that does not mean we don’t grieve over a number of losses in life. Perhaps we can use those times of grief to help us understand what others are going through at any given time. More importantly, recognizing that part of what we might be going through (e.g. divorce, job loss) involves a strong element of grief will allow us to address our concerns more clearly. Missing the fact that we are grieving or not taking seriously other people’s grief in different situations will only make healing more difficult.