Grief isn’t limited to the death of a loved one, nor is its impact felt the same at each stage of our lives. If you’re old enough to read this, you’re old enough to have experienced your own loss(es) by now. Remember how you felt as you reach out to console your friends who have lost loved ones. Even if you can’t understand the depth of their pain, you can empathize by silently recalling your own — while never verbally comparing your grief to theirs).
Here are a few levels or degrees of personal grief that continue to temper my understanding as I interact with those I know:
As a kindergartner, my grief over the moving-day mishap of losing my toy kitchen felt devastating — for a while.
As an older child and teenager, my grief over the loss of each beloved pet (whether goldfish or guinea pig or dog) was devastating — for quite a while.
As a young woman in high school and college, my grief over each broken heart felt like the end of my world — for the foreseeable future.
As a young mother (not yet in my thirties), my grief over the loss of Mom was life-altering — forever. I was motherless while anticipating the renewal of my own motherhood, with our third child due in three more months. This baby would not know my wonderful mom! I leaned heavily on my husband’s strength and support at the time.
One crying-on-his-shoulder conversation stands out. He didn’t urge me to stop crying, nor did he tell me everything would be okay. He cried with me, sharing his love and grief, too. Even after Mom’s initial breast cancer diagnosis three years earlier, and even after it metastasized to her brain and spinal column, he’d assumed his much older parents would “go” before either of mine. As I thanked him for holding and hearing me, he hugged me tighter and asked that I do the same for him when the time came.
His death at 47 left me unable to reciprocate.
As a young widow (not yet midway through my forties), my grief over my husband’s death was life-shattering. It was unlike any previous experiences.
As you draw upon your own painful experiences, let them remind you of what helped — and what did not help — in similar circumstances. You may find the best help of all is to quietly “be there” beside your friend.