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To think (actually believe) that there is a hierachy of grief when someone dies?

(123 Posts)
Fatmomma99 Mon 26-Oct-15 00:31:48

Just that really, because of a text conversation I've had with a distant by blood, but close by friendship cousin tonight.

Sorry if this is long.
My cousin had a properly crap mother (as in, my cousin would go to bed being unsure about whether or not her mother would murder her and her brother while they slept. Let's say emotionally unstable!). And so my cousin was mostly brought up by her grandmother. Her grandmother was one of those amazing women we meet sometimes. She was "all things to all people", meaning she understood what people wanted and gave it to them. She never criticized, she made you feel special. She was flawed in lots of human ways, but she was amazing.

She died 11 months ago, and my cousin was devastated, as was everyone who ever knew her. It would have been her birthday next week, so I sent my cousin a text (because she's had a really tough year with grieving and other stuff) saying "it would have been her birthday, thinking of you" and then the text conversation went on, and as part of that conversation I said "I miss her, but not as much as you do" (i.e. the point of this post - I was recognizing my loss was not as great as my cousin's) and she (she is VERY sorted) texted back "not necessarily".

But I think, actually, however much I mourn my great aunt, it's nothing compared to what my cousin is missing.

When my dad died, in my head the hierarchy was: My mum, me/my sister, his sister, grandchildren, cousins/nieces and nephews, the rest of the world. (my dad owned his own business, so had a LOT of employees who'd worked for him longer than I've been alive, and was a BIG pub go-er, so lots of pub people who were really fond of him. I didn't find their grief or sadness to be more or bigger than mine, although I appreciated that they missed him).

Possibly, this stems from when my dad's dad died; my maternal uncle (i.e. my mum's brother in law) told me at the funeral that he was sadder than me because he'd known him longer. And I remember looking at him and thinking (but not saying) "fuck off... you may have known him longer, but you saw him rarely (at big family gatherings) and he was my grandpa".

To be really, really, really clear (and not expecting anyone to read all this), I'm not negating that people feel loss or sadness at a death, I just think people should be aware however sad they are, their sadness/loss doesn't "trump" a close family member, although most family members (including me) like to know how someone they loved touched another person's life.

This is a no-brainer, isn't it?

cleaty Mon 26-Oct-15 00:36:43

I don't think you can know how much someone means to another person.

MrsTerryPratchett Mon 26-Oct-15 00:39:17

As a general rule I think it's a really good idea not to assume too much about hierarchies of grief. People mourn at their own pace in their own way and it can bring up things in them that no one who isn't them could possibly know. Your uncle was a ginormous arse-biscuit though.

I think is really good and linked to what you are saying.

ElsaAintAsColdAsMe Mon 26-Oct-15 00:39:30

I think it is a very odd way of looking at it. There is generally no need to put grief into an order of who feels worst.

cleaty Mon 26-Oct-15 00:41:47

And I would be more upset at some of my friends dying, than my brother.

TheDowagerCuntess Mon 26-Oct-15 00:42:42

It's not a mathematical equation. There is no trumping. It's completely subjective and unique to each individual relationship.

And I say this as someone who has lost both (much loved) parents.

Fatmomma99 Mon 26-Oct-15 00:47:41

My uncle IS a ginormous arse biscuit, MrsTerryP, maybe that's why I feel so strongly. He irritates the tits off me when he even says hello! (and sooo happy you've picked up on that. You'd think by 45 he'd have learned my name, but as he doesn't remember the names of his children (and the youngest is 5 years older than me) I'm guessing it's not going to happen!

I do understand cleaty and elsa. I'm not trying to negate someone's emotions. But when dad died, and I was so, so, so sad and upset (and he was an arse in a million ways, but amazing in a million more), I was very aware that my mum lost her soulmate and the person she had sex with and the yin to her yang and her sounding post. And I felt that her grief "counted" more than mine, in that I felt I needed her to be ok before I was. But someone who used to drink with him in the pub? No, I didn't feel the need to take their grief into consideration over mine.

But you both think I'm wrong?

Fatmomma99 Mon 26-Oct-15 00:48:43

MN is against, me, and I respect MN. I think I have to conclude IABU, even though none of you have said it.

HeartsTrumpDiamonds Mon 26-Oct-15 00:49:34

But this is a recognised thing! I absolutely agree with you OP.

Google "circles of grief" or "circles of support" - the spouse or immediate family or parents are in the centre, then the next circle is other family, then friends, acquaintances and so on.

example here

And just think about who receives the with sympathy cards. The "etiquette" is basically for someone in an outer circle to give the card to someone in an inner circle. So when my godmother was killed in a car accident, I sent a card to my cousin (her daughter), but a colleague of mine gave a card to me. And when my DDad passed away 6 weeks ago, my DBro and I were there to support my DMum.

HeartsTrumpDiamonds Mon 26-Oct-15 00:51:35

Oh and I forgot YANNNNNNNNBU!

Paddletonio Mon 26-Oct-15 00:54:56

It completely depends on the reLtionship you actually have, not the relation "status" eg a friend might grieve more than sibling, depending on the situation. So I don't think you are necessarily right but I do think your uncle sounds a twat.

mysteryknickers Mon 26-Oct-15 01:00:01


At my dad's funeral a random person started lamenting to me about how she was going to cope with his death. I was WTF? To be fair I think there were mental health issues involved in her response but it was awful at the time.

Booyaka Mon 26-Oct-15 01:03:56

I do agree with you. In general it's sort of wives, children, grandchildren. But that does get muddied depending on the relationships closeness/problems and they can go up and down.

But I don't really think this is the issue where your cousin is concerned. I get the feeling that she's not really talking about hierarchies of grief in the sense you mean. I would ask her what she means and if she wants to talk. Because if I got that text I would be wondering if perhaps she meant that her relationship with her Grandma wasn't quite as rosy as you think.

Often people are charming to people less close to them than they are to their nearest and dearest. You say she was 'all things to all people' and you seem very fond of her. If your cousin doesn't feel she was quite so perfect it might be hard for her hearing this all the time from lots of people who thought she was wonderful if that wasn't quite your cousin's experience. Even if she grieved for her very much there might have been difficulties. And if this is what she meant it sounds like she might want to talk about it.

Fatmomma99 Mon 26-Oct-15 01:17:26

She might want to talk, booyaka (partly why I texted her), but my great aunt was definitely all there for my cousin, and my cousin misses her desperately.

My cousin isn't on MN, but she would find you and punch you if she saw this and thought you were criticizing her grandmother. To my cousin, she saved her life and "made her". Thank you for your post, and no insult intended, but this thread can not turn the way your post is thinking. Thank you for thinking in a creative way, but - no! Definitely not in this case. Might be true in other circs, but not with this one.

Sorry to be so heavy when your opening para agreed with me!

Honestly, cousin adored, and adored and adored her grandmother. Please don't be offended by this, but I have to correct you. She was amazing to my cousin, and absolutely definitely saved her brother (who I've not mentioned) from sexual abuse. But just gave them both the love they needed. And a bed. And food. My cousin and her brother (who is also my cousin, but I'm not so close to him) are just devastated by her loss.

MidniteScribbler Mon 26-Oct-15 01:22:55

I think that anyone who feels the need to play top dog when it comes to grief has issues of their own that need addressing. Who cares who think they were closer than another person?

Aside from which, people say stupid things in grief. What seems like something nice in your head can come across completely differently, and you kick yourself later when you go over the conversation.

Isetan Mon 26-Oct-15 01:23:23

Your uncle said a twattish thing, there are no hierarchies in grief, grieving is a personal journey and no one is more or less entitled to 'their' journey.

nooka Mon 26-Oct-15 01:36:52

It seems very very odd to me to think that the etiquette of sympathy cards has a direct relationship to how devastated someone might feel at the death of another.

How well you know and how deeply you care for someone is about much more than how biologically close you are to them. Some siblings are very close indeed, some are very distant, likewise parents and their children. Relationships are also very complicated and grief is complex too. My dh for example didn't really grieve for his mother (or his relationship to her) until he had children a good few years later when it hit him like a ton of bricks. Sometimes you grieve for the relationship you wanted to have as much as for the one you actually have. Sometimes you just very much miss the person.

Besides which different experiences of death make I think a big impact. The experience of losing someone suddenly, long before their 'time' or in difficult circumstances can be very different to experiencing someone slip away at the end of a life well lived. Sometimes death is a celebration of all that someone has done and been, and other times it's just a gaping hole. Sometimes both at once.

Booyaka Mon 26-Oct-15 01:38:09

In that case do you think she possibly meant it as a compliment sort of? Like saying that she also felt that you were close to her DG and valued by her and she was sort of saying that she thought the relationship you two had was pretty special as well? It might be that she just means that you both loved and missed her and she thinks that it's something you share rather than meaning that your grief is greater than hers?

ElsaAintAsColdAsMe Mon 26-Oct-15 01:41:50

When my son died it was the most devestating loss for me, it was also the most devestating loss that my brothers, some of my friends etc had in their lives at that point too.

I felt a need to be sure everyone else was ok, not because I felt they were suffering more than I was, but just because I love them and wanted to be there for them.

You can't measure grief.

Fatmomma99 Mon 26-Oct-15 01:43:40

Yes booyaka, she was def doing that. She was being sweet about my relationship with her DG.

Thank you for getting that!

I hope you didn't find me rude.

G'night. x

GruntledOne Mon 26-Oct-15 02:15:35

YANBU. I remember being totally taken aback when I heard a relative was offended that we hadn't written to her to condole on the death of a family member - because she wasn't any closer to him than other members of the family, and we could, had we wished to, equally have taken offence that she hadn't written to us.

cleaty Mon 26-Oct-15 02:37:25

A close friend of mine died suddenly four years ago. Although I loved my gran, my friends death affected me much more than my grans'. I still miss my friend and often think of her.

manicinsomniac Mon 26-Oct-15 02:47:56

I don't know, I think YANBU is a loose, correlative sort of way. But I don't think you can make a hierarchy rigid or clear cut.

You were able to give a clear hierarchy of grief for your dad's death. I don't know that I can do the same for mine. My grandparents are still alive. So who suffered more, them or my mum? His family are very close so who suffered more, his sisters or me and my sister? I don't think it's possible or helpful to share. We had a very intense shared, family grieving period all spent together. I don't think a hierarchy was really relevant.

The closest person in my life is my sister. I think that's unusual. She means more to me than my mum or my children. I just can't contemplate being able to cope or carry on without her. But, were she to die, in a 'hierarchy of grief' I would be down the list after my mum, her partner and her baby. But I don't think that I would grieve less than them at all.

So, though I think the idea has some truth, I think there are very fuzzy edges to it.

Senpai Mon 26-Oct-15 03:02:16

I know what you're talking about. At MIL's funeral there were some people who were being melodramatic lamenting about her death and didn't know how they were going to cope. When before she died they were apathetic to her existence.

But I'm not sure it's a problem with a grief hierarchy so much as people using a loved one's death as an excuse to get sympathy and attention? It doesn't seem like you minded your mom or cousin being "higher" than you, but it does seem like you're irritated with cloying grief, which is another matter entirely.

GreenSand Mon 26-Oct-15 03:31:18

I think bereavement can also be affected by what else is going on. Certainly in public, I was much more together after the loss of my Brother than my Aunt, who I had not seen for 5 years, as she lived abroad. I was much closer to my brother, but the effect of other shit maded the second loss much harder to deal with.

I'm sorry for your losses, momma, and everyone else grieving, I think it's a very personal thing, but not one to be trumped. That said, the lovely messages of support and acknowledgement should be welcomed. So realising others may be suffering more than you, great. Trying to say "I'm suffering most" and belittling others feelings is not great.

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