I’m not special.
Some people who know me might think that’s a nutty statement. I may not be better than anyone else, but I’m obviously unique, right? Who else is the daughter of a man who was struck by lightning, went on to help hand dig her family’s well, had a pet raccoon, survived a church-stalker who wanted to kill her, and did it all with a rare genetic disorder?
Now, I’m not saying there’s nothing a little off kilter about me, because there totally is. But, there’s nothing about me that hasn’t shown up in some other combination of traits and experiences in other people. Beyond that, even if I’ve experienced some things that most people haven’t, there’s absolutely nothing unique about my reaction to those events.
Love is love. Disappointment is disappointment. Grief is grief.
I was in a funk last Sunday. For the most part, I just sort of drift through life, feeling fine. I don’t sit around all day thinking about how life done me wrong or anything like that. But, every once in a while something happens and it reminds me of something I’ve experienced before and it just suffocates me for a little while. When that happens, I get this crushing sense of loneliness along with the sadness or anger that rears up. It feels like nobody could possibly understand what I feel in those moments.
Which is such bullshit.
Because loss is loss. Pain is pain.
There are some emotional reactions that are nearly universal. In some ways, it almost doesn’t matter what a person has lost or what’s hurt them, because we tend to react in similar ways. Whatever a person has been through might be unique to them, but the idea that any of us are alone in our pain is wrong.
When I was 19 (a year after all that stalking stuff had happened), I met a woman who’d survived a Holocaust work camp. I read her memoir, and if I happened to see her over at my dad’s church, I’d pop in and talk to her for a while.
You’re probably thinking I had this huge epiphany and realized my life hadn’t been so bad, after all. I mean, how can you compare living in a work camp to being stalked by a Grizzly Adams look-a-like? Well, you can’t. You can’t compare pain and loss like that.
What I realized was I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only girl who’d been separated from her home. I wasn’t the only girl who’d lived through fearful, sleepless nights. I never talked to this woman about my own issues. It was still too new of an experience, and I never talked about it back then. It was enough for me to know at least one other person out there “got it”.
A little while later, I met a woman who had lost her parents. My parents were still alive, but we understood one another because we both understood loss. We understood that some days it hits you hard, out of the blue, and squeezes your chest. We understood the pressure people who haven’t experienced a traumatic loss can put on those who have to “buck up” or be inspirational for them. We understood that sometimes you just pretend to be OK. We had two totally different sets of experiences, but the end result of our unique losses was so very much the same.
It’s tempting to think nobody else understands us. That we’re such complicated creatures that nobody could possibly solve our emotional Rubik’s cube. But, really, people aren’t all that complicated.
I’ve met a lot of people since I was 19. Some of them have lived through pain and loss of all sorts of different varieties. The one beautiful thing I’ve found in all of that is we’ve all connected with one another. Someone grew up with abusive parents. Someone has a chronic illness. Someone was severely bullied. Someone lost a parent. Someone lost a child. Someone lost a spouse. Someone lost a church. All different. All painful.
Do you ever get jealous of people who haven’t gone through an ordeal like you have? We understand that.
Do you ever feel guilty because you think maybe, just maybe, if you’d done something differently everything would be different? We understand that.
Do you ever feel alone in your grief, like nobody around you gets it? We understand that.
If you’ve experienced a serious loss, you’re not alone. I know how tempting it is to believe you are, but you aren’t.
You are not alone. You belong to us.