Friday, February 14, 2014

Is It Possible to Compare Our Grief With That of Others?

It is a natural tendency to compare our experiences and feelings to those of others, including grief at the death of a loved one.

The death of a child is usually regarded as the most devastating loss, followed by the death of a spouse, then a sibling or perhaps close friend, and finally a parent, particularly if the parent is elderly.

Several years of co-leading Arbor Hospice grief support groups has taught me that it is often more complicated than that, though.

Some people, for instance, who deeply love their spouses are able within a year or two to reconcile the loss and move on to a "new normal." Others who have lost, say, elderly parents - even in cases of long-anticipated deaths - may be surprised to find themselves grappling with the meaning and implications of that loss for much longer than they anticipated.

I have learned that:
  • Each person's grief is unique. While there are commonalities that link grieving people, we grieve and cope with loss in different ways.
  • That means that it is impossible to provide a precise timetable for grief or to predict with certainty what grieving individuals will experience, sometimes even in the next day or hour.
  • The only one who can truly understand the meaning of a loss is the grieving person.
With the best of intentions and desire to comfort, people will sometimes say to a grieving person, "I understand what you are going through because I lost my (fill in the blank) last year." Grieving people are quick to point out - at least in the safety of grief support groups - that no one really knows what they are experiencing.

In many ways, our grief is as unique as a fingerprint and as unpredictable in its path as a tornado.

While we may have sympathy and empathy for the suffering of others, we cannot know another's grief sufficiently well to compare it to our own or that of others.

That is both a humbling and empowering understanding because it allows us to see people in their uniqueness and to treat them with the respect that is their due.

What have you learned about grief and grieving from your own losses or those of others?

This blog post was written by Dennis Sparks, Arbor Hospice Volunteer. You may contact Dennis by commenting below or emailing him at

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