You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought as I scrolled past the words on my feed.
An aquaintance from years past had posted a picture of her beloved family pet they had put down that morning. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced,” she wrote.
I don’t doubt it was difficult or that they were truly grieving. And maybe it actually was the hardest thing she’d gone through in life. But her statement caught me short.
Because I immediately found myself comparing our loss to hers.
Our loss had been massive, imploding every bit of life as we knew it. When Dan died suddenly at 47 years old, I wondered if I would ever smile again. I could barely get feet to floor. Every dream, every single plan and every expectation of what the future looked like had been buried with him. I’d not only walked through my excruciating grief but watched our seven children push through pain no child should have to experience.
I’d faced countless decisions on my own. I’d taken apart the washer, learned about pool pumps and managed every bit of the house and yard with the kids. I’d remortgaged my home, figured out how to sell a neglected rental house and worked hard to repair and manage another — all far outside my comfort zone. I’d parented tough seasons with my kids and teens alone, begged God to help me raise them to adults and spent night after lonely night with a hollow ache of missing.
It was taking God’s grace and everything in me to let go of the life we had and take hold of the new life that was.
I knew the death of a family pet was hard, but her words stung as I instinctively began comparing grief and loss.
Now before you think I’m a completely awful friend, my spirit immediately checked me. I know comparing grief is futile and I felt like a heel for my reaction. This wasn’t the first time I’d been tempted to compare loss.
After a loss, people will often try to console by telling you about theirs. “I know what you’re feeling. My husband was deployed for a year.” Or “I understand because my great-aunt twice removed died.”
I’d nod my head with a polite smile, but inside my thoughts were screaming there was nothing comparable about it.
On the flip side, other losses seemed exponentially harder than ours. My friend, Abby Rike, was grieving not only the death of her young husband but her only two children as well — all killed in a single accident. My grief felt almost tolerable when compared to her tragedy.
But comparing grief is futile. Is it harder to lose a child? Is it harder to lose a parent when you’re a child? Is it harder on a family for the mom or the dad to die? Is it harder to say goodbye slowly after diagnosis and months of excruciating treatment or never get a goodbye because it’s quick and sudden? Is it harder for a widow with young children or a widow after her nest has emptied?
It’s all hard and it all hurts.
Which is why comparing grief is useless. Even in a roomful of widows, the losses are different. There have been different marriages, different experiences, and different issues and each make up a unique loss.
“Weep with those who weep,” we’re told in Romans 12:15. Nothing is said about first determining the kind of hurt or size of the hurt. We’re not told to compare grief and see whose is worse or weigh whose grief is big enough to count or to warrant compassion. We’re simply told to weep with one another. To acknowledge each other’s pain and loss, to make space for grief and to be with each other in it.
No pain is either too big or too small for God.
That day when I read my friend’s words, God immediately checked me. I asked God to give me his compassion and to keep me from comparing grief. Righting my heart, I stopped and prayed for her. I texted her some encouragement. She was hurting. And her real hurt in no way diminished my own.
God’s comfort was deep enough for us both.