Grief isn’t a competition

It’s been a day of talking about loss. Not intentionally. I haven’t been doing any charity training or meetings – it’s been random conversations with others where they have talked about their grief as part of a ‘normal’ conversation. That doesn’t happen very often but what struck me was the apologetic nature of their opening comments.

‘I’m sorry I shouldn’t have unloaded this on you, I know you were calling to ask me if I was attending the event, please forgive me’. This was from someone who I called this morning. I was helping a colleague out and phoning up some external contacts I have to see if they wanted to come to an event she was organising. I haven’t spoken to this person for over a year. I just started off by wishing her Happy New Year and asking how her Christmas break and been. There was a silence and then she told me it had been dreadful as her father had died. That she knows she shouldn’t be overly upset because they had been expecting it for a while and he was elderly – but she was finding it so hard to process and just keeps finding herself in floods of tears. She knows about Elliot as mutual work colleagues had told her when it happened. She apologised and said that she knew it wasn’t on the scale of my loss.

But why wasn’t it – it is hurting and painful for her – so it matters, it counts – we don’t have to experience the same type of loss for her to deserve compassion, understanding and sympathy. I said it was understandable that she felt the way she did, expecting her father’s death doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t hurt or be any less devastating – that she has every right to be upset and that I didn’t mind at all her talking about it. I said that our losses might be very different but it doesn’t diminish how she feels or means she has any less right to feel sadness and grief.

Later in the afternoon I met up with someone from another organisation who had come for a visit at work to see how we do things as she was new to her post. We talked about loads of work stuff and then got onto kids as she had a young son. First time mum and being away from home was difficult. She asked if I had kids and how many. In my mind I pause as I always do. How am I going to answer and how do I explain and do I have the emotional energy to say about Elliot. Not because I don’t want to or want to pretend it never happened, but sometimes the emotional cost of hearing myself saying about Elliot not being here anymore is so high. I did say I had three children and she asked their ages so I said, 19,17 and Elliot who died when he was two. She was very kind and compassionate. She then told me that she had four miscarriages before her son was born – but was quick to qualify that it wasn’t anything like I had gone through, her grief wasn’t on the same scale. How does she know that I thought? She didn’t know my pain but equally I hadn’t experienced hers.

That’s when I shared with her something that happened not long after we lost Elliot. A neighbour came round, just knocked on the door. Which I thought was very brave and kind. I knew her by sight but as she lived down the end of the road and we live in a cul-de-sac I hadn’t really seen her to talk to as such. She said how desperately sorry she was and wondered if she could have a chat. She said she didn’t really know what to say but wanted to share something with me. She must have spent a good few minutes qualifying what she was about to say, very similar to the person today – how it wasn’t like what I was going through and she knew it wasn’t the same. But she went on to tell me how over a number of years she had 6 miscarriages and then discovered she would never carry a baby to full term.

While she was talking and you could see the emotional toil it had taken on her – I felt – I am lucky. This conversation was only about three weeks after we lost Elliot. But I told her that her loss was personal and devastating to her just as mine was to me – it might be different but it is just as devastating. I said I am luckier in so many ways, I got to hold my little boy, read him stories, I have his photo’s, his pictures, his hand print and a million memories that we made together. Her losses, just like the persons today meant that they never got any of those things. So yes, having Elliot and seeing his life so horrendously stop the way it did is devastating beyond words – but I wouldn’t swap my experience for their’s. I am lucky never to have suffered a miscarriage – it was something I worried about throughout each of my pregnancies – but I was lucky I had the joy of their safe arrival.

The person today talked about how people around her didn’t really want to talk about her experiences, ‘that there would always be another chance to get pregnant again’, ‘maybe there was someone wrong with the babies so it was for the best’ and a whole host of other hurtful comments. So it gets buried and hard to talk about and she said she feels that maybe she shouldn’t anyway.

But she should, she has every right to – how can we process and even accept what happens to us if we have to just hide it away? When we lost Elliot the professional support was non existent. We left hospital with just a leaflet that said ‘we are sorry that your baby/child has died’. I was so angry. But unlike so many other parents I have met, I have some amazing friends. They still talk about Elliot, remember the things he did, they know that some days are beyond what maybe I can cope with. They’ve never told me to ‘move on’ ‘get over it’ etc – I hear some heart wrenching comments that other parents have had to deal with. Elliot is still a part of their life in their memories and I love that – it doesn’t mean I talk about him all the time but it does mean I know I can if I want to and that is so important.

Our experiences are all unique to us, they all matter in our internal world – people deserve our compassion, understanding and sympathy for their losses just as we deserve it for ours. That’s why I say to everyone who tells me about their loss when it hasn’t involved a situation similar to mine – and they start by qualifying that that their loss isn’t as great or painful – that grief isn’t a competition – just because their experience is different it doesn’t mean it is any less valid, painful or devastating. We don’t have to have the exact same experiences as each other to offer compassion and understanding and an acceptance of someone’s right to feel grief. I will always be grateful for having Elliot in my life, living with the pain and devastation is a price worth paying.

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