So often since Owen died, I've felt like I entered into the grief olympics with people almost daily. Not willingly, mind you. I actually have a story that re-breaks my heart just thinking about it. Let me start at the beginning.
When Owen died, I had some very close friends who stood beside me. They came to his funeral. They made brownies and thai food runs. They cried with me, listened to my struggles and questions, and all the while they never said anything that made me feel like I had to move on or change.
Until one day, they weren't there anymore. The phone calls stopped. No emails, no visits. It all just stopped. They disappeared.
It was a month before Owen's first birthday when I got the first inclination that I had tapped these friends dry. I had used the grief card too many times and they were fresh out of grace for me. At least, that's what I thought. For three years.
For the past three years, I just assumed that they had gotten tired of my grief, of me. I assumed that I wasn't making enough progress and that they had expected me to be further on once a year hit. I wasn't handling my grief the way they thought I should and so we grew apart. But it felt more like another death. Abrupt and unwanted.
These friends were some of the ones I just knew would always be there. I grieved the loss of their friendships. I felt like such a failure. Failing in grief and in friendship.
I found out through (I guess, gossip) a mutual friend that these friends stepped away because they thought that I put my grief above theirs. You see, the reason they knew how to love me (in the beginning at least) was because they also knew loss and grief.
I sobbed that night. I cried and cried imagining how and why they felt this way. I never said words even close to 'my grief is worse'.
I can only guess that the ways in which I coped that first year indicated to them that I thought that what I was going through was worse. The way I refused to joke about my loss. The way I cried every day. The way I stayed in my PJs most days and quit my job so I could grieve. They way I wanted to talk about him all the time.
After hearing the reason for the end of the friendship, I felt betrayed and judged. I thought that these friends would have been honest with their feelings. I had expected maturity and help from two friends that had walked grief's long road before me. I had assumed that their experiences would help them love and care for me in that fragile first year. I was disappointed and hurt all over again. And angry.
Per my husband's advice, I wrote them a letter. A letter that I never intended to send to them or even see the light of day. It helped, some.
I've had a few months to think and process all my feelings over this situation. And I just feel sad now. Sad that my friends didn't feel free to tell me how they were feeling. Sad that we couldn't have real conversations with each other, validating and comforting one another because though our tragedies are different, we all have deep hurt and grief to carry for the rest of our lives. I'm sad that our friendships are long gone now. I'm sad that so many friendships end this way; that so many friendships don't stand a chance because of the damn grief olympics.
Grief isn't a game and there is no first place. (Who would want that anyways?) I have had many women tell me their heartbreaking stories of babies lost to miscarriage. And my heart breaks with you, especially as you downplay your grief, telling me that you don't have it as bad as me. Yes, yes you do. You are separated from your child and though the means of loss is different, you have still lost something, someone and no one can reconcile your separation, save Jesus.
Now that I have this adorable, mischievous little girl running around my house, I see how the olympics aren't just for grief. We all play the game, and we all alienate and abandon and discourage with each turn at the bat.
Ultimately, I don't care if you work outside the home or homeschool or cloth diaper or eat at McDonald's or pose on the cover of Time magazine breastfeeding your three-year-old. And if you have five kids who cause daily destruction in your house- you don't win a gold medal while the woman with one kid at home gets ninth place. (And please, please don't tell the exhausted mother of a newborn to 'just wait until they are a toddler or a preschooler or a teenager or until you have three more at home.' Who does this help? And why make an already stressed out and vulnerable person feel worse??)
When we look at our neighbor and examine the differences, compare our struggles, and compete for first place (first place in hardships or best parenting or the 'who has it worst' game), no one is going to be a winner. We're all going to be losers. Alienating, abandoning and discouraging ourselves into loneliness.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Thank you that you will make all things new, and we will have reconciled relationships exactly as they were meant to be. Please give us grace, grace, grace for each day until that blessed day.