The Order of Grief

I never considered that there was a hierarchy in the grieving process until just recently.  A good friend’s brother died and I called to offer my condolences.  This is a friend who, along with her husband, has supported me unreservedly since Kevin’s death.  This couple has been part of my life for 35 years; her husband was my husband’s best friend for far longer – since the age of two. I called to check in and see how things were.  It is inconceivable how she must be feeling and I said so.  She stated simply, “I’m sad, but don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.  You’ve lost Kevin.  You lost your husband.  You loved him so much.”  I hadn’t called to talk to her about Kevin. I called to talk to her about how she was feeling.

We ended up talking about sorrow and loss and how consuming it could be.  She explained to me that her role was to support me regardless of how much pain or sadness she felt resulting from Kevin’s death, and now from her brother’s death  That her grief would never ever be as much as my grief; she had relegated her grief to mine.  It was astounding to me, that with the death of her brother, she still felt my loss was greater than hers.  I wondered if she felt this way due to her perception of my grief, or had I developed a sense of entitlement to grief that everyone accepted and which influenced her thinking.

The initial shock of Kevin’s death leveled me, no doubt.  Then the grief settled over me and decisions and rational thought became too difficult. I learned to lean on my friends and family. Leaning on others did not come easily to me, but I don’t think it comes easily to most people.  I had hoped to guide and support my children through this loss but I wasn’t able to and I fell hard and flat. Consequently, I let myself and my family down. This disappointment and self-doubt further complicated the grieving process by adding additional stress; more strands to add to my braid of grief, sorrow, confusion and fear.  Where was my strength when I needed it most?  My husband’s death was a humbling experience and I am thankful for all those friends who have helped me throughout.

I suspect that my friend is using avoidance tactics to suppress her own sense of loss. Grief is an unordered chaotic emotion. It is pervasive; deny it at your peril.  I worry that this good friend is not on a healthy path and emotionally she is stretched too thin. Her brother has now died and she’s still grieving a good friend.  There is no classification system that can be applied to grief. Relationships on paper or blood lines don’t determine the amount or degree of grief to which you are entitled. ‘Be brave, soldier on’ doesn’t work here.