Disclaimer: I don’t believe in comparisons of loss. The spectrum is infinite. There will always be someone better and less well off (especially if you look closely). Similarly, what “slings and arrows” one person easily endures can just as easily for another cause mortal wounds. To say my losses have been greater or heavier or more devastating is to steal someone else’s right to sorrows of their own. If we both survive a car crash and you lose both legs, but I lose only one, am I not allowed to grieve my lesser loss in your presence? The weights of life that I can easily carry may be too heavy for you. And the puzzling events you easily comprehend I might find inscrutable. It is for these reasons that I try to (try to) avoid comparisons — in any venue.
I believe in a community of loss. I endorse cooperative compassion. I don’t claim to have endured more, lost more, or suffered more than anyone else. I won’t try to puff up or tone down what I have endured. What I will do is hope that my grief carries me to new territories of empathy. Every time my heart breaks, I hope it grows better equipped to love well those who mourn. At the end of the day, I believe that’s the best thing I can gain from loss — empathy and love.
Do I know how to grieve well? Probably not, but I do know that I need to grieve to be well. Is there such a thing as good grief? I don’t know, but I do believe that there is good to be found in all grieving.
I have known loss. One Sunday morning, as I sat savoring a pre-Church brunch of Indian food in Cambridge, my mother was having a brain aneurysm in New York. I almost didn’t answer the phone, and when I did, the words I heard took all my strength from me. The air turned to poison and, as if someone had ripped the bones from my body, I could barely stand. A new and foreign pain enveloped me; it coated my skin, took root, and invaded my bloodstream.
I tried to get to New York as fast as I could, but as I prepared to board the plane I got the worst phone call I’ve ever received — the one telling me not to go to the hospital, to just go home instead. I understood that imperative’s grim meaning. Sitting alone surrounded by strangers on a forty-minute flight, I had to come to terms with the fact that my mother was no longer among the living. In that moment, I…