During my lunch break today I did my semi-weekly Upworthy.com binge and watched a TEDx speech made by Ash Beckham. It was one of those rare moments you come across where the words coming out of someone else’s mouth are the same ones you’ve been struggling to find. One of those moments when you have this philosophy that you can’t quite put into words but then someone comes along and does it for you. In her speech, “Coming out of Your Closet,” Ash said:
Hard is not relative; hard is hard. Who can tell me that explaining to someone you just declared bankruptcy is harder than telling someone you just cheated on them? Who can tell me that his coming out story is harder than telling your 5-year old that you’re getting a divorce? There is no harder; there is just hard. We need to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard to make us feel better or worse about our closets and just commiserate on the fact that we all have hard.
Thank you, Ms. Beckham.
For a really long time after I lost my dad, I judged everyone else’s pain relative to my own. At first, I didn’t sympathize with anyone. Oh, your grandma died? Too bad. My dad died, which is worse, so your grief is not justified. I couldn’t bring myself to feel bad for anyone. Then I had a reality check. My mom became friends with the father of a child who went to the same support group as I did… and by child, I mean child. He was only about 7 years old… the oldest of three children. The story behind their life was so sad that it made me losing my dad seem normal. You would think that the family would never smile again, that they would walk around the building like most of the other families… confused, depressed, lost and just barely holding it together.
They didn’t. They were always so happy… so full of life. That’s the moment when I realized so many people have it worse than me. From then on, I felt guilty for being sad. I compared my hard with those who had it harder and told myself that I can’t be upset because it could always be worse… which meant that I felt even less sympathy for someone losing their grandma.
Then what happened? I lost my grandma. After 20 years of my grandma being the only surviving grandparent in my life, I lost her… and it was hard. We were all so upset. My mom and her siblings were now without any parent and although they’re “grown up”, it still hurt. It’s still hard.
You have to stop judging someone else’s grief. It’s a really hard lesson to learn on both ends. If life dealt you a shitty hand, you’ll find it hard to give out sympathy. If you have it pretty good, you feel bad when you get so upset over something trivial because other people have it worse. Life is an endless circle of it could be worse; if you lived a day in my shoes; you don’t understand how this feels; your pain is not nearly as bad as my pain… Guys, SHUT UP.
Who are we to place judgment on other people’s emotions? Who are we to stop someone from feeling the pain that they’re entitled to? Who are we to refuse sympathy just because we’ve met someone with a harder situation? This is why so many adults struggle with allowing themselves the ability to feel. There’s a constant fear of being labeled weak or silly for feeling the sadness everyone comes up against.
Why don’t we forget about trying to justify someone else’s hardship and just be there for them when they need us? So what if it seems trivial to you? It’s not trivial to the person hurting. They want someone to give them the permission they so desperately need to grieve. Give it to them. If not, we’re all going to walk around holding all this shit inside of us… thinking that we’re foolish for feeling pain.
I’m not perfect. I still struggle to feel sympathy for certain people under certain circumstances*. However, after hearing Ms. Beckham’s words, I realize that we all need to stop playing this I have it worse, he has it worse, she has it worse game and just feel. When your world is crashing down, let yourself grieve. Be selfish in those moments and get it out. Your life is hard every now and again and you’re not going to end up happy unless you give yourself permission to let the emotion come. Grieve it out… then be there for your friends, without judgment, when they need to grieve as well. Just be there for one another.
*Note that I can’t deal with people who are clearly making shit up for attention. Those people don’t count.