Pain Comparison

“I don’t understand the need that some people have to compare pain. If I tell you that my wife died just 4 weeks after her diagnosis, and you come back at me with some story about someone you know who suffered longer with the same illness before dying–what am I supposed to say? ‘Okay–you win! That pain is worse than my pain.’ There are no prizes when everyone is dead.”–Joe Harris

The above quote is from a book I’m currently reading called ‘My husband is not a Rainbow’ by Kelley Lynn Shepherd.

The first thing that grabbed me about this book was the title, then the fact that the author was a widow (and comedian) and lastly that her book has been interwoven with facebook and blog posts of events as they unfolded in her life, at the worst time of her life. (as we did)

She’s written my life, I thought. And then I came to the chapter where she wrote about watching the USA series ‘This is Us,’ and thought to herself, they’ve written my life. That was just too weird. Anyway, like so many stories about grief, Kelley’s and mine are very similar and very different at the same time … but the similarities in particular, so far, (I’m only halfway through her book) have been cathartic and thought-provoking and that’s always a good thing.


When I got to the chapter in My Husband is Not a Rainbow (that title – I know) that the quote at the top of this post appears in, I gasped. It seems I’m not the only one to have experienced pain comparison. It’s something I have noticed in conversations several times in the (almost) two years since losing Bren. It’s a thing people do. And now I was reading that it happens to other people too, not just me…at least two others anyway – Joe Harris and Kelley Lyn Shepard.

I don’t think it is ever a conscious effort of one-upping, or at least I hope not anyway. I think, when it has happened to me at least, it’s been more a way of trying to make me feel better because someone else has it worse. Only, being told someone else’s situation is worse than yours doesn’t help in any way, especially not when the person you love is dead. It can, however, leave you feeling worse.

The easiest way to avoid accidentally hurting someone by using pain comparison is not to do it. Try to remember that pain is pain, just like love is love. The pain I feel at my husband’s loss is no easier or more difficult than the pain someone else feels at their loved one’s loss. The relationships are different, but the pain is the same because pain is pain. I can’t be made feel that someone else’s pain is worse than mine, because my pain is mine, and for me, it doesn’t get any worse.

People are kind and want you to feel better when you have lost someone, they want to help and to fix it for you. But grief is not something that can be fixed. There is nothing that can be said or done to lessen the pain. You just have to go through it, and if it’s your family member or a friend in pain, the only advice I have for you is to let them know you are there if they want to talk, scream, cry or laugh with you, or dance, there’s a chance they might want to dance.

If you are close to someone grieving, and haven’t already, let them know you understand their pain isn’t fixable, and that you aren’t going anywhere, no matter what. And make sure they understand that you know their grief has no definitive end date, and you don’t expect it to. As much as you want them to be over their grief, there is a chance they won’t be for a very long time, if ever. Hang in there with them if you can, as they find their way, in a new and foreign world. They’re learning to live with the loss and pain they’ve been left with and I can guarantee you they are probably feeling frustrated too.

And know that those grieving, in their pain, still have a great capacity for feeling love and joy right alongside it, even if they haven’t found that capacity yet. I’ve been lucky enough to experience immense joy in the years since losing Bren; including exciting things happening for me personally and for family members & friends – we have had new bubbas born into our family, milestone birthdays and most recently our beautiful niece’s wedding. The pain has been everpresent on every occasion, but love and joy are there too, in equal measure, and I have felt that love for both Bren and me.

My husband might not be a rainbow either, but every time I see one I’m reminded, by him, that life is good and hope is limitless, and for that, I am always grateful.

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