12/03/2012 11:30 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2013

My Grief Can Beat Your Grief: A 'Widow-Tude' Adjustment (Part 2)

Last week, we examined the issue of those in the widowed community who attempt to "out-widow" one another. The lesson conveyed was that we cannot and should not ever compare losses one against the other. Hopefully, the message was clear and that going forward, the widowed community will concentrate on lifting one another up in healing.

We now turn our attention to the "Widow-tude Adjustment" that needs to take place among those who are not themselves widowed. In-laws and other relatives, friends and colleagues of your late beloved who believe that you could not possibly hurt as much as they do also often conduct a masterful game of, "My Pain is Worse than Your Pain." Some of the more common observations include: **

"They were 'only' your husband/wife."

"Only?" Yeah, you're right. They were "only" the love of our lives. They were "only" the person to whom we committed the rest of our lives. They were "only" the person with whom we lived those lives, planned futures and raised families. They were also "only" the person whom we saw to the grave.

"I worked/went to school/partied with them for "x" amount of years. You only knew them for..." (any amount of time that is less than "x"). This is so much harder for me than it is for you."

It really doesn't matter how long you worked with them, studied with them, nursed hangovers together or how much longer you knew them... marriage is just a little more involved. We really don't compare working, going to school and certainly partying with actually being married to someone.

"It's easier for you because you weren't married."

In reality, being unmarried at a time of loss makes things more difficult. Although certainly not a sought-after title, when a married spouse dies, the surviving spouse is immediately recognized as widowed. They generally have access to practical and emotional resources. They can avail themselves of support without judgment or reproach. It is not the same for couples who were unmarried at the time of the loss. There aren't any titles; except for being roundly dismissed with the word "only" (as in, "They were 'only' your boyfriend / girlfriend / fiancé(e) ). Unmarried widowed are often turned away from support groups. They are commonly brushed aside by the families of their beloved. They are frequently left with bills to pay because they shared a life with someone and assumed at least half of the financial responsibilities. However, unlike their married counterparts, they have no recourse for assistance. In short, they are penalized practically, societally and emotionally, simply because they didn't walk down an aisle. Does that really make their losses "easier"? Is love and loss truly measured only by ceremonies and paperwork?

The Biggest Hurt

There is one sentiment that is noticeably absent from these comments and it is a sentiment that should not be ignored:

"They may have been your husband / wife / life partner...

...but they were our child."

Quick side story: Having recently fallen quite ill, my adult daughter was laying in a hospital emergency room chastising herself for needing Mommy there. She felt that because she has reached adulthood, she should no longer need her mother by her side during illness or emergency.

I quietly responded, "You may have outgrown childhood... but I will never outgrow motherhood".

Fact: No matter how old a child is, they are still a child to their parents.

Fact: Losing a child is not natural. It is not supposed to happen. It is the darkest, coldest, deepest, blackest fear of any parent.

I am absolutely heartsick for any parent who has had to bury a child -- it simply is not in the accepted order of things. However, I can also imagine how much it must hurt when one of your parents-in-law tells you how much greater their pain is because they have lost their child. You feel like it somehow negates your widowhood or that you are in some kind of Grief Olympics competing for the right to stand on the "Who's Hurting the Most" podium; yet how can you possibly complain when you realize the depth of the pain you know your in-laws to be experiencing?

If you have such an encounter with a parent-in-law, use compassion and understanding while expressing, "We're all in so much pain here and it would be great if we could be there for one another." Many parents-in-law are receptive to this approach. Others are not. And sadly, still others attempt to assess blame for the loss, which far-too-often falls squarely on the widowed. As tragic as the situation is, you must not allow "widowed" to become synonymous with "whipping post." While acknowledging that losing a child is likely the greatest pain on earth, the fact remains that you should not be subjected to any kind of accusation, abuse, unkindness or anything that is not conducive to healing for all concerned; nor should your loss be trivialized in any way.

The moment has arrived to call a time-out in the game of "My Pain is Worse Than Your Pain" to understand one very important phrase:

Loss Perspective

Dearest Person Who is Not Widowed:

You have lost someone for whom you cared very much. You are also grieving, and rightfully so. However, the relationships originating with the person who is no longer here cannot be compared. Your loss is not greater. Your loss is different because the loss perspective is different. They were your buddy or your colleague or your relative -- and the exact same person was also the one for whom we were searching our entire lives. They were a spouse. A partner in the life that we were living together. The one to whom we were married or engaged. The one with whom we had children -- or wanted to have children with and were robbed of that opportunity. The one with whom the wedding date was set and the plans were made; yet they didn't live to see the day. The one whom we loved without measure, yet were not allowed to legally marry because of blatant bigotry that results in preposterous legislation forbidding marriage.

One more thing: The amount of time that you knew someone or spent with someone is inconsequential; rather, it is the life lived in that particular amount of time that counts.

It is indeed time for a Widow-tude Adjustment; both within and outside the widowed community.

Love is love...

...and loss is loss.

Spread the word loudly.

Refuse to battle any longer.

For in the game of "My Pain is Worse than Your Pain"...

...there will never be any winners.

**Special thanks and gratitude to the members of Widows Wear Stilettos for your generosity in sharing.

For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit

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