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The Scales of Pain by Katie Rose

There is a tendency, I have noticed, to rate pain.


I do it. We all do it.


Sometimes we say: “Why does this person not feel more pain?” or “My pain was not as bad as yours,” or, “Yes, you have it bad, but you do not have it as bad as some people.”


Sometimes, my friends will complain about something relatively minor, and I will think: “People are dying. My brother died. And you are complaining about this trivial thing?”


Their pain, I will tell myself, does not rate as highly as mine.

My pain, though, does not rate as highly as some people’s pain. The people who died in the shootings in El Paso and Daytona last week, the massacre in Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay that left 58 people dead, Hurricane Katrina, September 11 …


Those were tragedies.


My brother’s death? It was just part of life. People die. They die too young. They die unexpectedly. It happens. It is a little awkward to tell people my brother died, but they do not recoil in horror. It is not the same thing as telling them that I lost an infant, or that someone I loved was killed in a terrorist attack.


But here is the truth: This ranking of pain? It is a masturbatory exercise. What does it matter if someone has more pain that me? Or if my pain is worse than my neighbor’s pain? Should only the person who has suffered the most—the one was the saddest, most heart-wrenching story—be allowed to grieve?


Of course not.


The ranking of pain is irrelevant. It is not the point.


When you say that your pain is not as bad as someone else’s pain, you deny yourself the opportunity to hear the messages that your pain has to offer. When you say that your pain is greater than everyone else’s pain, you exist only to have the magnitude of your pain validated by the outside world. Once again, though, if you are looking outward to make sure your pain registers higher than everyone else’s pain, you are failing to extract the lessons from your grief.


We do not win awards for bearing the most pain, nor do we receive accolades for smiling through pain. And even if you could win such awards, they would barely have meaning in comparison to your grief.


Your pain is internal. It exists inside of you. It is your pain. You cannot give it away by diminishing it in comparison to someone else’s pain, nor can anyone else quiet it by showcasing their pain. When you live in the companionship of grief, it is holed up inside your heart, and it is there for you to decide what to do with.


There is no beating it. There is no getting over it. There is no deciding it is worse or better than someone else’s.


From my vantage point, you either becomes a person who rises above grief, or you become a person who lets it rule your life. There are good days and bad days, but it seems to me that in the end, there is no in between. You either decide that you are going to find compassion in your own self where it was once absent, or you lash out at others. You either decide to allow your grief to stretch your capacity for love such that you see beauty where you did not see it before, or you see blame and hate and anger. You either become thankful for the small wonders that you would have earlier overlooked, or you are bitter for what you do not have.


When you allow yourself to use your grief, in whatever magnitude it exists, to grow, your pain paves the way for tremendous appreciation.


What you have lost gives a voice to what you have and what you can be.

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