My son died two and a half years ago and it broke me. Before him, I had known so very little death. I had no frame of reference. I had no way to understand. I truly believe the experience is unfathomable until you’re in the midst of it. That doesn’t mean it’s the “worst” kind. That doesn’t mean comparing grief is ever useful.
Almost two years ago, I participated in Megan Devine’s writing program. It was a course about all kinds of grief and I was the only one in my group who had lost an infant. There was actually only one other bereaved mother there, and her child had died at 18. I am forever thankful that this mother did not make me feel alienated. I am forever thankful she allowed her grief and mine to exist, side by side.
And I’m not saying in any way that we are similar. We both lost children, though at very different times. She lost memories; I lost imagination. She has years of tangible mementos; I have only nine months’ time. Is one of these losses “worse” than the other? Is that something that can even be defined?
I mentioned we were the only two people in the group mourning the loss of a child. The other members were split pretty evenly between loss of siblings and parents, plus a small number with griefs of unique kinds. And what I found most interesting in my interactions with all of them, was the amount of commonality in our experiences. In how much I could identify with experiences I had previously thought were uniquely mine.
And again, none of us were comparing grief. None of us were playing grief olympics. None of us were building a monopoly on feelings about isolation and suicide. And although we all were mourning different and unique losses, none of us were saying, “this right here is just mine.”
I learned so much in that group. I learned about empathy and compassion and the power of community. I learned that a 36-year-old single mother by choice could become great friends with a 60-something woman who had never lost a child. I learned that loss is individual, but grief can be uniting. Our individual grief was uniting.
I recognize I can’t speak for everyone. I recognize loss is heartbreaking, and in my lived experience, there has been nothing worse than the loss of my child. But that’s just me. That’s just where I happen to fall. And I still feel really thankful for the ability to form relationships with others who have experienced different forms of trauma, loss, and grief. It’s not the same. Even amongst bereaved parents, there is at least a small degree of difference. It still hurts. Life freaking hurts. I’m not going to contribute to that by telling anyone their loss isn’t equal to mine.