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Grief and Comparison – Is one type of grief worse than another?

Grief had always been a foreign concept to me. I knew people who had lost a loved one but I could never relate so it felt like it was something I didn’t have to worry about. This was far from the case in 2014 and the following year. Grief was no longer something I did not understand, it became something I felt and had to navigate through.

Losing both parents, a year apart wasn’t the kind of grief I wanted to experience in my early 20s. If I am being honest, and I had my own way, I wouldn’t want to experience it at all. Sadly, life doesn’t work like that. Over the past 6 years I have dealt with loss in the way I see fit. There is no blueprint or special manual that teaches those who are dealing with grief how to cope or what not to do when grieving. My way of coping, I would say, wasn’t wrong or right, it was simply what I felt was best for me. 

Whilst I was able to adjust to this new normal it certainly wasn’t an easy adjustment. It took a great deal of learning and unlearning certain things, and a deeper understanding of my grief. One of the main concerns I had to deal with throughout my grief journey was the comparison. 

Feeling tired and stressed. Young Asian woman sitting looking exhausted and tired during working at home office using laptop. Concerned Asian woman look at laptop frustrated is grief a competition?

Is grief a competition? 

We have all heard Theodore Rosevelt’s famous words: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When we compare our lives to others and fixate on what they have or who they are, we are making ourselves, often not always realising it, feel inadequate.

This is no different when it comes to grief. Comparing your grief, thinking about whether you have it worse or not, and feeling like your grief is insignificant because your loss, compared to someone else, seems so “minuscule” is bad and somewhat toxic.

The first few years into my grief journey I was learning to make peace and come to terms with the fact that my parents were no longer here. For some time, I held on to this belief that you’re not supposed to bury your parents as a young adult. In my eyes, this was culturally unorthodox, but I learned that grief doesn’t discriminate nor is it ageist.

The truth is we can all experience loss, whether that’s in our twenties, thirties, forties, or eighties, I am sure you see where I am going with this. 

Puzzled dark skinned man looks thoughtfully and with bewilderment, focused aside, dressed in casual sweater, optical glasses. Is one grief worse than the other?

When I compared my grief, what was it like?

This fixation on this idea led me to constantly compare my grief and at times place it in some sort of hierarchy. What can be worse than losing both parents in your twenties? The truth is, there is nothing worse because we cannot compare our grief. I used to think that I couldn’t grieve too much because there were others who had experienced much worse.

In retrospect, I spent a long time believing my losses were insignificant in comparison to some people I had come across who were also dealing with loss. When my mum died I was distraught. That was mostly because of my grandma.

I didn’t feel like it was fair for her to lose her daughter. A part of me felt like I didn’t have the right to grieve because losing a child seems so heart-wrenching. This was down to two thoughts: parents are not supposed to bury their children and children are the ones that bury their parents.

For a long time, I convinced myself that my grief would always be secondary compared to my grandma’s. When I would speak to her about how she was coping with my mum’s death, an instant wave of sadness would always come over me. I would always hear the pain in her voice and feel so helpless every time. 

Looking back, it was noble of me to feel like I wanted to help her, but without realising it, I was invalidating my own grief. When you continuously compare your grief to others, the reality is that it does more harm than good. I believe that it makes your grief increasingly difficult to navigate because you are telling yourself that you shouldn’t be feeling like this.

Constantly comparing your grief is mentally exhausting. During some of my lowest moments, I wouldn’t feel worthy of help because “I don’t have it that bad” and “it’s normal to bury your parents”. These were the things I would tell myself time and time again. Putting on this façade of strength made me neglect my true feelings, and vulnerability, which I struggled to express.

When does the turning point occur? The truth is, it doesn’t if you continue to compare your grief. Getting to the point of constantly comparing your grief to accepting it, and recognising it’s valid, is where I started to have a healthy relationship with my grief.

Young puzzled African American man wears in yellow shirt, sitting at a table in a cafe and drinks aromatic coffee, remembers whether the iron turned off before leaving the apartment. Looking thoughtfully into the distance. Is one grief worse than the other?

Is one type of grief worse than another?

Grief is such a rollercoaster of emotions, and you can’t always manage or predict all the emotions you are going to feel. In my opinion, the loss that we experience will be different, but grief is universally the same. We go through those five stages, not necessarily in chronological order, and express those emotions. 

Being vulnerable is perfectly normal in grief. I have come across a plethora of people who have experienced sibling loss, child loss, partner loss, loss of a marriage, and loss of identity. Unfortunately, the thing we all have in common is that we are mourning people and a life we once had, but we can all find solace in knowing that there are others we can depend on in our journey. Grief may be isolating, but we don’t have to embark on the journey alone.

Grief is not a competition

Have you experienced comparison while grieving? What are some tips that have helped you in your grief journey? We would love to hear from you,  please share your thoughts in the comments. 

Jermaine Omoregie
Jermaine Omoregie

Jermaine after the loss of his parents started a podcast, Thinking Out Loud with his friend Ben who sadly also lost his father at 12 years old and his mother at 19. They explore, amongst themselves and with a range of different guests, the unspoken truths about grief and mental health.

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