But Did You Die?
Have you ever had something particularly awful feeling happen to you and as you recount the story to a friend, you spare no detail so as to make very clear how significantly this impacted you only to have that person at the end of your story look at you and say, “OK. But did you die?” Part of you thinks, “OK, perspective, that’s good, I guess.” But then another part of you thinks, “THIS PERSON IS THE WORST.” Probably it’s about 20%/80% respectively.
I always used to think I was a compassionate person. Actually, I have always believed empathy to be one of my gifts that I can offer to other people. If you need someone to cry with you, I was your girl. I was (and still am) a feeler of feelings.
After Lydia died, I changed. I thought that losing her would make me more compassionate. In fact, I had heard many people who say this is their experience. The loss brings about so much more compassion and love for hurting people. This was not my experience. Real talk ahead, people, don’t judge me.
For a long time after Lydia died, my compassion for other human beings in pain was so little.
Family member is sick? Someone lost a job? House burned down? Pet died? Grandparent/parent died?
Yeah, but did your baby die? No? THEN SHUT UP.
I mean, I would NEVER say it out loud to people. I’d do my best to keep being the empathetic Jen people had come to know. But my heart was basically screaming YOU DO NOT EVEN KNOW WHAT PAIN IS! And heaven forbid anyone would ever attempt to compare their pain to mine! HA! That would earn you an almost immediate write-off.
But, like grief will do, things changed as time wore on. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to say to someone and truly mean it that “Pain is pain.”
I think it really helped me to start viewing emotional pain on a similar plane as physical pain. Are there ways to attempt to measure levels of pain? Sure. But it’s ultimately a very difficult thing to do because pain is relative to each person. Someone may be able to easily bear having some pain that others find excruciating. We all have different levels of tolerance for pain. We also have no idea the amount of pain we can bear until we have to bear it.
And just like physical injuries, emotional injuries take varying amounts of time to heal. But that doesn’t mean the healing is more or less painful depending on the time.
I guess ultimately what I discovered is that trying to compare pain is a waste of time and ultimately it only brings more hurt. Even with other moms who have lost children, the tendency is to try to figure out which loss hurts the most. Is it better to have barely had them and lose them? Or is it better to have gotten many long years? The conclusion is that it just really doesn’t matter.
Grief of any kind and pain of any kind is so individual. But at the same time, the more I can look at other people in any level of pain and say to them “I understand grief. Not yours specifically, maybe, but I know what grief can do and how much it hurts. And I wish you didn’t have to hurt like this” - the less alone we all will feel. I hope.