There’s a really interesting article at Psychology Today about the way that we look at each other’s lives and compare our grief.
My thoughts… hierarchies of loss are inaccurate inventions
Because of the work I do, I end up having a lot of conversations with people about loss and grief. I guess they intuitively sense that I’m comfortable talking about it and this opens the hatch. And then with many folks, there’s a moment when they’re fully into talking about how loss has affected them, where they remember that our daughter died, and then they get all uncomfortable and say something like, “But I feel really bad talking about my friend who died/ my child who’s left home/ my cat that died/ the job I lost/ my loss of health when you lost your daughter… that must be so much worse.”
Another way that I’ve personally experienced the hierarchy of loss has been in the question, “How far along was your pregnancy when your daughter died?” (Oh, if only I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question…) They’re asking so that they can figure out where our loss sits in the hierarchy… the further along you were in your pregnancy when your child died, the higher they’ll place your loss on the hierarchy of loss (and the more permission you have to grieve.)
Have you noticed the hierarchy of loss coming up in your conversations?
Or maybe I should say “hierarchies.” Because there isn’t just one, objectively established, accurate hierarchy. There are multiple different versions of the hierarchy of loss, depending on who you talk to. All of them place certain losses at the top of the hierarchy, with the perception that those losses are harder, more important or more deserving of grief than others. And other types of losses are placed way down the bottom of the hierarchy where they’re minimized or ignored and we’re shamed for grieving them.
If you’ve ever heard anything like this, then you’ve seen the hierarchy of loss in action:
- “Cheer up, at least your grandpa lived a long life…” (old people are at the bottom of the hierarchy and you have less permission to grieve.)
- “Why aren’t you back at work already? It was only a first-trimester miscarriage…” (the younger the baby/ pregnancy, the lower it sits on the hierarchy, and the less permission you have to grieve.)
- “It was just a cat… I don’t know why you’re so upset. You weren’t this upset when your friend died.” (animals are lower on the hierarchy of loss than people, so you have less permission to grieve.)
The danger of hierarchies of loss
The only place that hierarchies of loss will take us is into judgment, shame and “should-ing,” where we’re placing rules on the way people grieve and granting or removing permissions based on our self-invented, arbitrary (and highly subjective!) hierarchy of loss.
What serves us all is to fully acknowledge each other’s losses. When it’s your loss, it’s totally different to someone else’s loss, because it’s the loss that you personally have to deal with everyday. What serves us all is when we give each other full permission to feel and grieve as much as we do. What serves us all is when we can all grieve without judgment and shame. Then at least we’ll all feel free to drop the walls and be the biggest losers together. And it’s in the togetherness that our losses become bearable and we let joy and peace and love and hope back into our lives.
Wholehearted Living After Loss Group: Starts 30 Nov
Here’s more details about the group, which will run through the holidays. And there are a few updates in this regard:
- For people who’d prefer to do this course with me individually, I’m making 5 spots available for that option, priced at just $500 for the full 8 sessions and course material. (This is almost 50% of my usual individual session price.)
- For people who’d like to join the group but the fee is a stretch for you, I’ve made 2 scholarship positions available. You can pay just $37.50 for all 8 weeks and course material (scholarship applications are at the end of this page. Deadline is Friday 25 Nov).
- If you’d like to purchase the individual or group sessions for a friend, you can do that – just email me after you purchase and tell me your friend/ family member’s name and email address so I can follow up with them.
Image by terren in virginia.