Grief and Loss: A Hierarchy?

This post is for reader Carolyn, who questions the oft-repeated statement that losing a spouse is the worst possible experience. She points to other experiences of loss – a child losing a parent, a sibling losing a sibling – and wonders whether widows and widowers can identify with the depth of sorrow in these experiences.


As I said in the post above, I’d had three profound losses in my life. My sister Barbara died when she was nine months old and I was four. My father died when I was fourteen and he forty nine. And my husband died when I was fifty six and he fifty nine.  Reader Carolyn’s question about the legitimacy of calling one kind of loss worse that another struck a chord.

All of my losses were sudden, and each was immensely difficult in its own way. My small sister was here one day, and gone the next. All of her things vanished, and she was rarely spoken of again. That’s very hard for a four year old to grasp. My father was the warmth and stability in our family. As a young adolescent I was just beginning to push the boundaries of independence, to experiment with what it might be like to leave home. Then home left me. My husband was my lover, best friend, the person I wanted to be with more than anyone else. Then I was back to being with myself.

I don’t think the losses in my life can be placed in a hierarchy, in any sort of order of difficulty. Death is difficult, whenever and wherever it occurs.

This is a tough one to grapple with, and I’d be glad to hear other readers thoughts on it.

4 thoughts on “Grief and Loss: A Hierarchy?

  1. Thanks Pam for your thoughtful comments. I wish I had something profound to say, but I do not. Perhaps it just boils down to not judging other people and trying to keep an open mind when it comes to other people’s experiences. One observation from this series of posts and comments is that I wonder if some people are more likely to experience deep grief than others. I am guessing that generally speaking some people are more sensitive than others, and “attach” more to other people than other people do. Thanks for the interesting discussion.

  2. for Carolyn: I suspect that people are born with more or less resilient temperaments. I think we may all feel deeply with the death of someone we love, but not everyone gets stuck indefinitely in the loss. More resilient people may be able to move on with their lives more quickly. Many of the people who have written are doing so quite soon after a death, on completion of the first year, and that makes a difference.Five years out, ten years out, their stories might well be different. Thank you for being part of this conversation, and come back for other topics if you like.

  3. Wow. Death is a topic that all deal with differently, depending on time, age and emotional impact of the individual to us. Yours were so sudden and unexpected, where as as elderly declining person is in the space of life that it is what will eventually happen in the end. I guess It depends on the decline, the attachment and the age of all involved. I don’t believe it is ever easy or that anyone is ever “prepared ” to let someone they love go.

  4. for J: And dealing with loss is something people feel quite strongly about, as you can tell from the variety of comments, all the way from “get a life” to “I know just how that person feels”.

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