It happens. Seeking solace, you call a trusted friend or loved one and share some sadness; a family member’s diagnosis or a colleague’s death. But instead of consolation, you’re told a story of greater loss, even more disturbing than the one you’ve shared. You’d hoped for comfort but the conversation leaves you frustrated and feeling worse. And you question why you bothered to make the call.
Why do some people one up us when we share sad news? I wondered and so I asked. One individual told me that it helped her put her personal losses in perspective. When she thought about people who had a loss worse than hers, it made her feel better.
Well, it doesn’t work that way for me and I suspect it doesn’t work that way for many people. If a loved one has been diagnosed with a difficult form of cancer, in that same conversation, do you want to learn that someone knows of someone that died from the same cancer? Will that really make you feel better? If you’re shaken because a dear friend was in a terrible accident, does it make you feel better to know that there were other accidents with worse outcomes?
There will always be sadder stories and more dreadful news. But that shouldn’t minimize or take away from the losses we each encounter. Everyone has the right to feel sad, shaken, or bereaved. And when we express our feelings, they should be validated, not minimized.
When you’re in a conversation and someone minimizes your loss, what do you say? What do you do? Are you supposed to become the comforter? Or are you just plain shocked into silence?
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.