Comparing Grief

I recently read this brilliantly funny book called “The Actor and The Housewife” by Shannon Hale.
I don’t want to give anything away in the book but I will say that one of the characters loses someone they love and, while grieving, has this conversation:

And there was Joann, a well-meaning neighbor.
“I’m sorry about your husband.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that.”
“You know, my husband left me when I was thirty-three and had four small children. Just be grateful that didn’t happen.”
Becky stared. Only with superhuman restraint did she keep from asking, “You’re saying I should be grateful my husband died?”
“Experts say that divorce is a harder trial to bear than the death of a spouse.” The woman nodded to herself. “Hard stuff. Hard times. Yep, hard, hard times. Well, sorry!”

When I read this part of the novel I could relate to the way the Becky character was feeling. While I have never lost a spouse I know what it feels like to have my pain compared to other peoples pain and to not be validated by others.

One example of this was when Brad and I had gone through treatments for a number of years and were waiting for adoption #1. I was working in a job I hated but trying to deal with life. We had already had a failed placement and I was emotionally not well at all. One of my co-workers who had recently gotten married became pregnant. During the last trimester of her pregnancy she struggled physically with those things that women struggle with while pregnant. I remember while talking about babies and hoping for a baby she proceeded to tell me, “You haven’t paid your dues!” I defended myself and said yes I had. She then said again “No, you haven’t paid your dues!” 
I can’t even begin to tell you how this hurt me inside. I left work that day and once I got in the safety of our own car (Brad picked me up that day) it all came out. I cried so hard. It hurt so much to be told the pain I had gone through didn’t count and I didn’t deserve to be a mother. I look back on this experience and others like it (unfortunately I had way too many of these types of things said to me) and I realize how often people felt the need to compare their pain with mine and needed to somehow state how much more difficult what they were going through was than what I was going through. 
 These experiences made a huge impact on me and I have tried to always validate another person’s pain.  
image by David Castillo Dominici

One of the great things we learn as go through difficult trials is the ability to feel compassion for another person’s trial. While circumstances may be different we all feel pain. All pain hurts and it is so important to validate what the other person is going through. 

 
I also remember having an Ah-Ha moment after one of these sad encounters. I had been pondering how Jesus (who is not female) could understand my pain as an infertile woman. Of course, later I realized in a real way that He has felt my very pain through the Atonement but at that time I wasn’t at that complete understanding yet. But one thing came to me. I remembered all the accounts of Christ suffering and being told horrible things, being spat at and some not believing He was who He said He was and I wondered how that felt for Him. I realized many did not validate Him. When I had this thought come to me I wept as I realized how much my Savior understands me. 
 
Validating some one’s pain is a great gift that we don’t give to one another often enough. 

Understanding our own grief and feeling compassion for others who are feeling loss is important as adoptive couples are chosen by a Birth Family. While there are many similarities between what a Birth Mother feels after placement and what an Adoptive Mother feels as she deal with infertility it is important to not “compare” grief. Birth Mothers, Birth Fathers and Birth Families need to feel validated and need support rather than being told what they feel isn’t much compared to _______ (you fill in the blank). 
 
While it is always nice to hear that people believe you are courageous and that you “did the right thing,”what many Birth Mothers need is someone to understand they are hurting and to just let them feel what they feel and know that they can say whatever they want at that moment and won’t be judged. Validating their pain – validating how they feel in that moment of sadness – allows them to feel loved and cared for as they crawl through their hard place. 
I don’t write this as just an adoptive parent. I am also part of a Birth Family. My incredible niece, Erin, placed her baby boy, Gabriel, for adoption. I, of course, am not a Birth Mother, but I love the Birth Mother and I love my Birth Nephew and it was hard to say goodbye to him. I felt feelings I didn’t think I would because I understand what was waiting for him on the other side of the adoption. I was very surprised at what I learned.
I also write this as a Mother who loved a baby with all of her heart and cared for her for 8 wonderful months and then had to say goodbye knowing I would never see her again….knowing she wouldn’t have the same level of care as we could give her. It was a very hard experience that still hurts.
Validation helps people dealing with loss, pain and grief.
It is amazing what happens when you give the gift of validation. You find it coming back to you in ways you never expected.
We’d like to hear from you. Have you experienced the difficulty of having others discount your grief? Of feeling that your feelings of grief were not validated? How did you deal with it? 
Leave your comments below, or submit your own guest post.

One Response to “Comparing Grief”

  1. Anonymous
    March 30, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    “Validating some one’s pain is a great gift that we don’t give to one another often enough.”-so true!!