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Are There Degrees of Loss?

Losing a loved one is never easy.  But a conversation that I had the other day has really gotten me thinking about whether or not there are degrees of loss.  Are there circumstances that make a loss easier or harder to bear?  I know that past experiences can make a big difference.  The loss of a dear pet, if that is the first death a person has encountered, can be devastating and debilitating.  On the other hand I had lost all four of my grandparents, a couple of great aunts and my mother by the time that I graduated from college.  When my childhood dog died I was sad, but since I had been through worse several times before, I was able to grieve the loss while remaining fully functional.  In essence it’s the same loss, but received very differently.  It doesn’t mean that I loved my dog any less, I was simply more accustomed to the processes involved in loss and I knew first hand that the profound ache deep inside does eventually lesson and in some cases fades into the background.


But back to this conversation that I had. A friend told me of her aunt who suddenly passed away due to an aortic rupture, leaving behind college aged children. My heart immediately went out to not only her, but her cousins whom I have never met.  Especially her cousins who found themselves in the same shoes that I walked in ten years ago.  However, I feel like their path is even harder than the one I took. When I said this to my friend, who knows my history, she assumed that I meant that it is easier when you can see the loss coming instead of having someone ripped away from you with no notice.  I was taken aback by this, because that hadn’t even crossed my mind, although there may be something to be said for that.  What was in my mind was that these girls had known their mother, had sought her advice and counsel. They lost the person that comforted them when they were sick and celebrated with them when they had victories.  My mother had not been any of those things to me, she’d been too sick.  So in essence I lost the construct in my mind of what a mother is, not the physical embodiment of a mother.

To me, this seems like an easier loss to bear.  Yes, it comes with its own complications and heart aches.  I’ve had more than one person look at me with grief-wracked eyes while uttering that “I lost something that I never had.” Which is true.  When I was home sick from school I not only took care of myself, but my mother as well.  I never confided in her, I never sought her advice.  When something in my life goes horribly wrong, I don’t wish that my mother was with me, because the last time that she provided me with comfort and security was so long ago that I can’t remember.  So when she died, I didn’t lose these things.  I lost the dream of what I had always wanted her to be, but deep down I had always known that that was never possible anyway, so I don’t know that I can even count it as a loss.

These girls did lose all of that.  My best friend who lost her mother several years ago lost all of this.  She lost her best friend and her soul mate.  They stuck together through thick and thin and when her mother died, a piece of her died with her.  This kind of loss seems to me much harder to bear than the loss I experienced.  The same loss, yet different degrees of loss.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, maybe it makes sense to you.

  • Natasha Wakefield

    It’s a concept I consider myself often. My partner committed suicide when our daughter was only 17 months old, many of the aspects of the nature of his death contributed to my grief and how i dealt with it. Perhaps I will tell you about it some time 🙂

  • Natasha Wakefield

    I also think grief is something very personal. My grandmother died recently and my cousin and aunt reacted very differently to my mother my sister and I. My mother was upset because she considered they had had the same loss and that my aunt was acting inappropriately. But even sisters can grieve in great contrast. It also makes a big difference if you have a loss and then the people around you have contrasting feelings to what sort of grief you should feel. We are all different and it is really not possible in my experience to entirely understand someone’s grief. But it is possible to empathise, and when you have lost a loved one, those who empathise are the ones around you that will get you through it.