Everyone has lost a partner, friend, parent, job, ability, pet, or object that created joy. It is something viewed as irreplaceable by the person experiencing the loss, but often thought trivial by others.

Grief Hierarchy

Who would view the loss of a pet as equivalent to the death of a loving husband? The inability to knit for someone with arthritis may be laughable to a marathon runner who learned he will never run again after a hip replacement. The Fortune 500 executive can’t imagine why a janitor in his firm is distraught when laid off.

Myopic Visions of Grief

We tend to view grief myopically, believing nobody could suffer as much pain as we do. And of course, their loss is much lower on a grief hierarchy of misery–one based on OUR values. It’s a belief that causes pain to those who are suffering from a “lesser” loss and hinders our recovery from grief.

We all possess hierarchies of values. I would mourn the death of my wife more than my dog, which I love. I’m sure that gives her comfort, but I counseled people whose loss (animal, ability, object) mirrored the types of anguish people display at the bedside of a loved one in hospice who is dying.

It would be cruel, inappropriate, and factually wrong to rank order their pain on an arbitrary grief hierarchy. Yet, we assign values to grief, with comments on how inappropriate a person’s emotions are with words such as “After all, it’s ONLY a dog,” or “I don’t understand why she’s so upset over her cancer. Despite her health issues, she’s still alive.”

Missing a Valuable Lesson

The danger in not legitimizing the grief of others for “lesser” things, results in missing a valuable lesson on grief and recovery. Grief is grief, regardless of the type of loss that generated it. And there, I think, is the lesson.

Profound grief comes from a loss of someone or something to which we are intimately connected. In Part 2 of Grief Hierarchies I’ll explore the nature of grief–why we grieve. And in Part 3 I’ll offer suggestions for lessening the feelings of loss ranging from the death of a partner to the inability to knit.

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