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 StoreClick here to order.


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Comment by Susan Mayer on January 15, 2011 at 1:58pm

I think the response to unhelpful remarks - like the one you describe, or any other - depends on who made the remark and the nature/quality of the relationship.  But as a general guide, I like to be polite, but candid and say something like, "that information really isn't helpful to me right now."  I'd elaborate on why it's not helpful if I think the person can absorb it in the right spirit. 


Sadly, it sometimes happens that I've had to distance myself, at least temporarily, from friends who really cannot appreciate my grief or be with me as I experience it.  Friendships ordinarily ebb and flow, and it's no different in bereavement, I think.

Comment by Mrs. Glover on January 8, 2011 at 4:29pm

Thank You ~

You've shared an unfortunate occurance. This has occured enough times that I no longer share with people as I don't know how to stop that very action that people do.  I do recall, I lovingly addressed that action to the person whom started it.  Sadly, enough the defensive response ruined the opportunity to receive the correction in love in which it was whole-heartedly intended.   

In this very pattern of open communication  comes the isolation we as bereavers experience.


Warm Regards

Mrs. Glover

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