I may get jeered by my fellow bereaved parents but I’m committed to honesty so here it is: there is no hierarchy of grief and loss.
Now, am I saying that losing a dog is the same as burying a child? Absolutely not! I’ve written about that here.
But what I am saying is that grief, sorrow, loss and heartbreak comes to us in all shapes and sizes. And what may be small to me may be huge to someone else.
In the past weeks I’ve been exposed to a number of people who were waiting for those magic minutes of visitation allowed for intensive care units.
Each one had a story.
Each one had a cross to bear and a complicated life they were trying to maintain outside the additional stress and strain of a loved one hooked up to tubes and heart monitors.
None of them revealed (to me at least) that they were bereaved parents.
But I could clearly see pain, sorrow, grief and weariness etched in their furrowed brows. I could hear exhaustion in their voices as they placed phone call after phone call to update people that wanted to know how things were going but couldn’t make it to the hospital. I noticed hope spring to life in each heart when the clock ticked toward the assigned visitation window and how they leaned forward willing those last seconds to fly by faster.
I knew they were hurting. It didn’t matter if they hurt as much or less than me. There’s enough pain to go around in this life.
It isn’t a contest.
And I realized that because of my great grief and sorrow, I had a gift to share. I could reach out and take a hand, listen to a story, hug a weary shoulder empathetically, gently and without judgement.
I understand the weight of hard things.
I know by experience that life can change in a single breath. I carry both the ongoing burden of missing my son and the traumatic memory of life changed instantly by a knock on the door. It’s made me stronger in ways I would not have chosen.
I will not squander that strength.
I will put my shoulder to the harness alongside my fellow humans and offer to help carry some of their burden. I will extend my hand to the stumbling, strengthen the heart of the hurting and offer a listening ear to the one who has no one to talk to.
I cannot undo what I know. I cannot undo what has brought them here or may take them to places THEY don’t want to go.
But I can be present.
I can refuse to turn away because I think their grief is small in comparison to my own.
I can choose love.