Comparative studies in distress
Meet my imaginary friend. She’s called Beth.
A broken toe is nowhere near as important as having, say, a broken spine and punctured lung. However, a broken toe does stop you walking and is worth taking seriously.
If Beth is sat next to a guy with a severed artery, there’s no way she’ll demand to be treated before him. But neither will she express surprise when the paramedics get round to her and want to treat her toe. She won’t object to having it x-rayed and put in a cast if that’s what the professionals deem necessary.
She doesn’t fail to feel hunger if she misses a meals in a row, just because people exist who haven’t eaten for a week. Nor ought she to fail to do something about it, to find something to eat. And nor must she tell anyone they’re not hungry when lunch is late, because she herself had no breakfast.
Losing your whole family in a bomb attack is far more major (and I’m not attempting to define major (or to use it correctly)) than losing your beloved dog to old age. Beth hasn’t done either, but she would guess the former hurts more and for longer. BUT she doesn’t think that means you are wrong to mourn the dog.
Any pain deserves its own grief, shaped and sized to fit. We could do the ifs. Say the person who has died was ‘merely’ a school friend you were fond of but lost touch with years ago. If this is your first bereavement, it will probably take more dealing with than if you’ve lost enough close kin to be familiar with the feelings and process; your perspective is different. Conversely, even having had all those previous losses, this relatively small one may be more upsetting, if the effect on you works cumulatively… If. If. It’s trite to say we each do it differently – but it’s trite because it’s often repeated, because it’s true.
Beth is not allowed to ask for emotional support – or physical first aid – from someone who is more badly wounded than she is. If she’s walking wounded with one useless arm, she will put the tourniquet on the stranger bleeding to death in front of her (even if that’s a painful struggle for her). She won’t say, ‘Sorry, I haven’t got the energy, it’s too much effort.’ BUT she will expect help from the fighting-fit stranger who happens past when hers is the only injury still not taken care of, and be astonished – nay, indignant – if that stranger refuses on grounds of feeling tired.
Stop trying not to feel bad, just because someone out there (or within your own household) feels worse.