Owning Our Grief Without Comparsion

Comparison. It is something I see in many aspects of our lives. I even see it in suffering. Sometimes when I am sitting with other breast cancer patients, I hear subtle comparisons between women who have different types of the cancer. One woman said to me, “Oh, I don’t have that kind. I have the easy kind.” In this way, comparison becomes a way of minimizing our experience, our emotions, and our suffering. I wish I could wrap my mind around why we as human beings do that. It feels like a false sense of reassurance, essentially saying to ourselves,” I will be okay because i don’t have it that bad.” And despite knowing the pitfalls of comparison, I still did it to myself this week.

In returning a missed call from my daughter, Amber, I learned that she will be getting an offer tomorrow from a company she really wanted. I am so proud of her, for being the kind of employee that other companies want. I am so proud of her, for taking a risk and moving out of the company she has worked for her entire adult life. I am excited for all the new opportunities that are out there for her. But this new company is in Dallas, Texas, about one thousand miles from my home. One thousand miles. By the time we were ending our conversation, I was fighting back tears. I was thinking that I would no longer be able to just get in the car and drive a few hours to see her. I felt sad, like she was leaving for college again. And now, the tears became a steady stream running down my face too quickly for the kleenex to catch them.

Then I remembered all the mothers, who would never see their children alive because of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I thought of their grief, the kind of pain that rends a heart and overwhelms the soul. My heart had been heavy for Las Vegas all week as I remembered my family vacation there two weeks ago and the beautiful memories we created. But now, it is a city in mourning. And we are a country that is mourning with them.

So what do we do with this? I believe we gently set down our tendency to compare one mother’s loss to another. We embrace each other with compassion and recognize that everyone suffers. In different times, about different losses, and in different ways. That one person’s devastation does not wipe out another person’s pain. The pain can coexist and we can honor them in ourselves and each other. I am not asking a mother who lost her child on Sunday to validate my pain. I am saying that I am going to give myself permission to feel my own sadness at the same time I lament the unimaginable heartache she is experiencing.

Letting go of comparison will not end suffering, for suffering is part of the human experience. But, the ability to bear witness to another’s suffering without diminishing our own will allow our individual and collective healing to begin.

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