Still Standing

Why Grievers Are Often Misunderstood

Recently, in one week 80% of my arrangements to meet up with friends got canceled. Not by me. I was utterly disappointed. Maybe I’m a highly sensitive person, or perhaps I simply get easily disappointed.

So when I inquired into one specific cancellation, which happened to be with another bereaved mother, she said: “Since the death of my son five years ago I experience a daily challenge of organising my calendar, regularly double book myself (which is what happened on our supposed meeting day) or have people show up at my door without remembering why. This is just how it is.”

As much as I understood and could relate to what she described I was also hurt that we wouldn’t meet up, that our daughters wouldn’t be able to play with each other.

I took the sum of cancellations personally and reacted with overwhelm and lack of motivation for anything. I even posted about my disappointment on my personal page on Facebook which I only very irregularly do nowadays.

Then, I realized something much bigger: This is where grievers are so often misunderstood. Her short-term grief experience is as unique as the longer-term effects she’s experiencing in her life. Full stop. Even though we are both bereaved mothers I am reminded that I CANNOT compare myself to her.

It’s human nature to compare and to want to find someone to relate and feel understood by. ‘She experienced what I have’ I hear myself think. “You are the first one who truly understands what I’ve been going through” numerous clients had said to me. It’s true: another bereaved person at least has a bit of insight into what is going on… but really – just ‘a bit’.

Grievers misunderstand other grievers when they compare their grief or are in different places relating to their loss. Every comparison of grief is a total misunderstanding of the uniqueness of EACH and EVERY loss, of the uniqueness of each relationship and each griever. The only two losses that can ever be compared are your own and even this comparison is not helpful.

Grievers are misunderstood because a non-griever is looking from that perspective of ‘not currently grieving’ and is simply not capable of relating. That’s when unhelpful myths like ‘just forget about it and you’ll feel better’ or old-fashioned beliefs like ‘you just need time’ get uttered in helpless attempts to sooth the pain.

Grievers are so often misunderstood and – at the same time – misunderstand those who might not be grieving a loss at this specific time or even others who are grieving differently or are in a different place with their grief. Grievers expect the ‘outside’ world to have an empathy and understanding that far fewer people are capable of than those that – magically – seem to have that skill, gift or empathy, even without having a personal experience of that kind of loss.

“If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all.”
-Yogi Bhajan