Children say the most amazing things. Their little minds are fresh and free from clutter. Their words are not intended to harm or hurt, just total honesty from the perspective of innocence.
As I was driving my 5 year old son to the doctor the other day he pipes up from the backseat and says:
“Mom, I have this nametag with your name on it.”
He holds up the nametag looking for my praise and approval.
“Cool buddy, that is mommy’s name alright.”
His next sentence shocked me and sliced through my heart with a million gashes:
“Mom, I’m going to keep it so when you die I can remember your name.”
No words can explain or express the pain I felt after hearing those words. I’m not pained because my 5 year old thinks about my death. I’m pained because my 5 year old is acutely aware of death and has an almost passive attitude towards it. This is the result of losing a parent so young and facing death in the most real way possible. It is fact we all die, and in his tiny world it is all too familiar.
Death and loss come in many forms in life. Divorce, loss of a YOUNG spouse, loss of a OLD spouse, loss of a child, loss of a pet, loss of income, security, safety, and so much more. As a widow I’ve been thrust into the grief comparison discussion more times than I care to remember. For whatever reason we feel the need to say, “my grief is worse than your grief” or “my loss trumps your loss.” Early on my grief path I was often offended by these conversations of grief comparisons. After all, I can’t speak to your loss, I can only speak to my own personal loss. I can’t say that you aren’t greatly pained by your personal loss (whatever that is) and I can’t and won’t begin to draw a comparison. Why do we need to grief compare? Why is a measurement of pain a topic of conversation or an issue we decide we have to win?
Further down my path I’m finding a new form of grief comparison. This comparison is from people who tell me that my loss is not significant because I have found new love, or that my loss is somehow diminished because I only had 15 years with my late husband as opposed to their 30 years. I’ve also heard that because I have moved FORWARD with my life I am no longer in pain, or that my love for my late husband was not sincere.
People are not replaceable in this life period. Regardless of what we do after their loss, that person is forever gone from our presence. As a widow, I grieve not only the death of my late husband, but I have grieved the death of the future we planned, the life we shared, and the joint identity we had created. I have grieved a life filled with promise cut short by a tragic accident. I have grieved watching his family grieve. I have grieved watching his friends grieve. I have grieved that he will never see his children grow, or walk his baby girl down the isle. Above all else, I have and will forever grieve the empty space in the minds and hearts of my two precious babies. The innocence lost, the tears that fall, and two sweet beings that will never know first hand their father’s amazing warm smile or his gigantic bear hugs.
Pain like that is not comparable in any way – period. Pain like that is as personal to me as your pain is personal to you. There is no gigantic grief scale that tells us if we hurt more or less than another person in a similar or not so similar situation. Grief is grief, and no measurement is required to calculate the pain.
My new love, my walk into the future, and my choice to live in the moment does not diminish my past. It does not allow for grief comparison or judgment of a love and relationship cut down at its prime. My new love is a fresh and separate chapter in my life. It is me taking everything I have learned in my past and embracing the opportunity to live boldly the rest of my days on this earth. My new life proves that even with great pain and loss we can find a way to rise from the ashes and live with love and happiness.
For the remainder of my days the gashes in my heart will heal over only to be gashed open again. There are graduations, college, weddings, grandchildren, and so many more days to face where my mind will drift to what was lost. So many more tough conversations with my children, and the continued reality that they faced at their infancy what no child should ever have to face.
My pain eases with time, but it never disappears or fades completely away. Such is the case with all loss.
No comparison needed, no judgment required, no pain measurement allowed.