Maybe I’m just coming to a less selfish point in my life, and realizing that not everything is about me or directed at me in some way. What a shocking revelation that is…. It has occurred to me lately that we all need to take a step back and see things for what they are—nothing more and nothing less. In all the adoption classes we’ve taken, and the difficult experiences we’ve had over the years with failed fertility treatments, a failed adoption and everything in between, I have found it interesting that we all compare our grief. I’ve heard it from both ends, too. I’ve had people who feel that the things they have experienced have been worse than what I have experienced and they say something in the form of “well, at least you didn’t have to _____________”. And I’ve had people who were amazed at what we have been through say something like “Wow, I’ve had ____________ happen, but that was nothing compared to what you’ve dealt with”. It’s as if all the painful experiences in life can be measured on a line, with one standing behind the other in some grand descending order. So, how does it go? Does having to give my soon-to-be-adopted son back to his father trump your miscarriage? Is losing a parent farther down the grief line than losing a child? What if it was a more tragic death? And what about dissimilar experiences? Does your ongoing chronic health problem match up to my losing a job? Does my frustration with my weight win our over your depression? We even do it with children. My three-year-old can experience some pretty big grief over losing a monster truck—a seemingly insignificant thing, so should I just tell him, hey, I’ve lost a child, so suck it up?
What I have come to understand is that loss is just loss. It is the same emotion though perhaps driven by different experiences. I’ve had many, many friends over the years who were afraid to tell me they were pregnant, especially if it was unplanned, and especially if they were not wanting to get pregnant at that time or ever again. So, does the stress and grief of a mother overwhelmed with several little children, who just found out she was pregnant again when she had hoped to wait until things had maybe settled down—does her grief go in front of or behind my grief at not being able to get pregnant at all? What about when my grief is magnified by years of failed fertility treatments, including two very difficult rounds of invitro, neither of which worked? Now do I win?
Loss is loss. It is still grief. There may be degrees, but it is the same sadness and pain and depression. We would do well to stop comparing our emotions in an effort to either justify our level of sadness, or to make ourselves or a friend or loved one “snap out of it and be grateful for what you have.” The truth is, most of us are very grateful for what we have. But, sometimes we are just sad and hurt over something we have lost. Maybe it was a loved one. Maybe it was the dream of having that loved one. Maybe it was the dream of a stable income or a good retirement or a healthy life or a home or a particular friendship. During our adoption/foster care classes, we got a little refresher course on the stages of grief, and we learned how we have to move through each stage before we can progress to the next one. No matter what the loss is, our feet must touch each step. Some may be quicker than others. We might breeze through denial and then wallow a lot longer in anger before moving on, but they all have to happen. It is something we all have in common, so, in essence, we would do better to stop worrying about whose grief is greater and whose deserves more sympathy, and just mourn with those who mourn. Because, even though the driving force may differ, we are sharing in the same experience. I’ve often told stressed mothers with several children who felt like they couldn’t break down in front of me, that it is okay for them to be sad and upset and stressed, and it's okay if I know about it. I always say that they are learning the lessons of patience and compassion through the difficult journey of caring for their children, and I am learning the same lessons through the difficult journey of trying to have children. Same lessons. Because patience is patience and compassion is compassion and loss is just loss. No grand sequential lineup. It just is. So cry on my shoulder because you’ve changed 3000 diapers today and soothed 26 temper tantrums and done 16 loads of laundry, cooked 3 meals and 12 snacks, all with your husband deployed. And I will cry on your shoulder because the cysts in my ovaries are extra painful today and I still have health complications left over from the hormone manipulation that is invitro and my aging parents are experiencing health problems and I don’t have two shiny nickels to my name and my family is so far away and my long, long-awaited son keeps asking for a baby brother and I can’t give him one, though it is my greatest wish. And, then, soon enough, we will eat some chocolate and laugh about our breakdowns and suck it up and be grateful for what we have. But, for now, let’s let ourselves grieve together. We just might learn something from each other that will make our lives a little bit better.