“I can’t believe how it must feel when you hear her call you mommy and tell you she loves you and know that soon, she won’t be able to any longer,” I told her. “I can’t believe you’ll never get to hear her say those things at all,” she said to me. And that’s when it hit me: There’s no comparing grief.
Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. And while he’s absolutely right, I fear that comparison may also be a conspirator of grief as well. My friend and I were speaking of our children. My daughter had infantile Tay-Sachs disease, hers had the juvenile form. Though they were both terminally ill, my daughter began to shown symptoms of regression much sooner than hers. She would never walk or talk, while her daughter had already been doing these things when the onset of the disease began. That simple conversation reminded me both of how fortunate and terribly unfortunate we each were in our own ways. There is no comparing one’s grief to another’s.
Grief is personal, and so too are it’s effects. There is no quantifying these circumstance from an outside perspective. Loss is loss, it’s that simple. As I watch news stories and scroll my Facebook feed I often run across various pieces recounting the death of a child due to myriad factors; cancers, car accidents, drug use, abuse. I find that I’m quick to conjure up the same paltry sentiment for each: I can’t even imagine. And while it’s true, or rather we’re just so hesitant to allow ourselves to imagine due to the horrific nature of child loss, I often circle back and realize that I myself lost a child to terminal illness, and I’m plenty of other people’s ‘can’t imagine’.
Loss leaves us at a loss. Often without explanation or seemingly any justification. I find that as human beings if we’re able to move past the ‘why’ of the situation we often then turn to the quantification of the loss itself. The problem with this is that by assigning our personal value system to someone else’s pain it undermines the worth of their grief. I often wonder which would be worse; losing a child to a slow and drawn out illness, living every day with the knowledge she will one day be gone too soon, or being stricken by immediate loss with no prior warning? Is it better to have the time to prepare, to grieve preemptively (as much as possible), and plan for a future that doesn’t include that person instead of being blindsided by the pain of loss, or does this merely amount to a prolonged sentence of grief itself? I don’t have an answer for that. Like the grief the loss inevitably leaves in its wake, I find the mode by which it came to be, to be as personally diverse as the grief itself. I’ve come to understand that loss, no matter what form or timeframe it make take in one’s life, can be as immensely painful and life altering as any other form of loss can be to someone else.