comparatively speaking

I believe if you got a room full of widows whose husbands had died of the same form of cancer, each woman would still silently compare herself to those around her.

I wish my husband had survived longer after the diagnosis.

Thank goodness my husband went fast and it didn't drag out.

She's lucky, her kids are still young and in the house to lend support.

She's lucky, her kids are grown and she has time and space to grieve by herself.

I wish I had been married longer.

She's so young -- she's got her whole life ahead of her.  No way I'm getting married again.

And so on.

I also believe, especially early on, that it's a good thing -- it's even a healthy thing -- to compare yourself to others in similar situations.  I think it puts parameters on your grief, and helps set the boundaries of exactly what issues you personally need to move through. 

At first, unsurprisingly, you probably think yourself the worst off in the room -- from newness and the raw angry wound if nothing else.  And that's ok, by dint of still bleeding, you probably are.

But the nice thing about support groups, either in person or online is that you realize you're not alone:  others have gone through the same thing.

Well, not quite the same thing.

And there's the rub:  we're all so alike, we occupy a tidy little corner of the internet where we share macabre humor and toss around familiar euphemisms, but then we hang around long enough and realize there are some odd angles and edges.

Some lose babies earlier in the pregnancy than others

Some lose two children -- or more -- in the same event

Some lose two children -- or more -- over time

Some have to birth already dead babies

Some have to make decisions about life support

Some have to make decisions about termination

Some have seemingly healthy babies who are rudely snatched from their hands -- metaphorically -- weeks after their birth

We ponder these differences, and hell, it doesn't really matter does it?  No of course not, many of us pronounce, pain is pain, and we begin to comprehend still other parts of the stories:

Some don't have living children

Some have to explain what happened to living children and help them grieve, too

Some spouses leave

Some suffer infertility along with babyloss

Some subsequent pregnancies don't work, either

Some had horrible medical treatment

Some have long-standing issues with depression

Some were still suffering from other losses in their lives when their child(ren) died

And I think it's still good - and still healthy -- to compare, and realize, you know, I'm not the worst-off person in the room.  

And I speak rather ironically because of course, if you're following my examples here, no one is the worst off person.  Everyone is worse off.  Everyone is better off.  It depends to whom you're referring, to whom you're speaking, whose mind you're in.  Are we counting that refugee I just read about in the paper?  It just depends.

I'm not sure whose particular set of circumstances I'd rather have:  they all suck, and at least I'm familiar with mine.


I gather -- for better or worse -- that this sort of self-comparison is probably a chunk of how we form our identities and selves.  Some comparisons are merely factual, some make you gasp in relief, and some perhaps make you feel a little less of yourself.

He's taller than me.

I'm lucky I like my job.

Her skin is always so clear and smooth, and mine looks like the lunar surface.

And it's what we do with this information that's important:  it shouldn't make you feel like you get a prize of some sort just because your car is a newer model, but nor should it take you in the dumps if your neighbor's lawn looks better this year.  It is what it is.

We sometimes bandy this idea around and call it the Pain Olympics, the idea that some play games to set themselves up as the worst, the bottom of the well, the stink of the trash-heap.  

And I still argue it's good and it's healthy as long as at some point in time -- and it usually takes a bit of time for the wound to cease throbbing and your head to stop spinning -- that you realize maybe, just maybe that person had it worse.  And now that I think about it, that person I read about in the paper?  She did to.  And he did.  And her.  

And suddenly you have perspective, and compassion, depth and breadth to your experience.  You're able to welcome someone with a far different set of circumstances, realizing exactly where your circles cross each other in similar shaded places, and where you diverge.  And you also begin to realize that what one person considers lucky, another considers a cosmic kick in the ass.  What one person deems a lousy situation sounds like a symphony to you, comparatively.  

And before long you're beginning to understand not just how your situation fits into the world, but how your pain does.  And that there are other kinds of pain, and maybe "more" and "less"  and "better" and "worse" really aren't good ways to go about comparing these sorts of things, anyway.  That actor who tried to kill himself when he was 22?  His baby didn't die (he didn't have one as far as I could tell), but you know, in his head, his life was so bad he wanted to die.  My life was never that bad.  That was the day I picked my chin up a bit, felt sympathy for this poor guy, and realized I could keep stumbling.

Who are we to judge what's better and worse, anyway?  Maybe my neighbor uses pesticides on that ultra green lawn.  Maybe my newer car gets lousy mileage.  Maybe I just need to be with my situation and deal with it on it's own terms and use other people for support and inspiration when it suits.

That's the problem with comparisons.  You sometimes don't know the backstory, the consequences of the outcomes.  Maybe we shouldn't do this so much, after all.


Way way back, when I took yoga, in the beginning, the teacher reminded us practically every 5 minutes not to be competitive!  Don't look at your neighbor!  Ok, well go ahead and look if you must, but don't get down on yourself!  Because every person is different, every body is different, every student will have a strength and a weakness.  Work on your weaknesses, don't be ashamed to use props.  Revel in your strengths, but know that you can always grow -- the pose can always be better, made more difficult, held longer.

And I realized, in-shape-runner-me, that my soccer-muscly quads that allowed me to sit in air chair for an eternity outright forbade me from bending over and touching my toes, my hamstrings were so tightly wound.  Meanwhile, the 60 year old lady next to me had her head through her legs and was examining the backs of her ankles.

Grief is like this, I've come to realize.  Pain is like this.  It's mine, it's mine to hold and ponder and hold up and examine.  It's mine to improve.  I appreciate your sympathy in my down moments, and I really appreciate it when you find inspiration in my good moments.   

It's not better or worse, it just is.

How often do you compare yourself and your story to others?  How does it make you feel overall?  Has this changed over time? How do other people's stories shape you and your story?  Do they at all?  Do you find yourself gravitating more towards people at the same place in grief, or who went through a similar situation? (Or both?)