When it comes to grief, are certain people allowed to grieve more? When tragedies occur this is a question I find myself pondering. I came across a term recently that I believe perfectly sums up my thoughts on the matter: hierarchy of grief. Our entire society is built upon and functions because of hierarchies that we all acknowledge and abide by. Why should the grieving process be any different?
If there are rights to grieving a loss, certainly most deserving are the immediate family ie: parents, siblings, spouse, and children. These are the people who lived side by side the person and will undoubtedly be most affected by his or her passing. These are the people to take your cue from when you're trying to decide what's appropriate. Allow them to inform and reach out to people how and when they see fit. If a post is going to go on social media let it come from them first. The family is probably dealing with enough emotions and decisions to also have to worry about what someone tweeted about their loved one.
Many of my best and oldest friends will acknowledge that we have a closer relationship than I do with members of my family, and for friends like that I would include them with the first category. Close friends may often find themselves annoyed with other people's expressions of sadness. It's easy after a death to over familiarize oneself with the person who died. We make our relationships with him or her more meaningful than they actually were. After a tragedy in my life last year I saw this from many of the people impacted. I admit that I myself was guilty of it. The only conclusion I could come to is that we are not capable of truly judging the depth or sincerity of each other's relationships. Another person's importance to me is not always contingent upon my importance to them.
After the circles of family and close friends is where the boundaries of this hierarchy of grief become less defined. It becomes like the ripples in a pond where the dropped pebble at the center is the tragedy, with each ripple growing larger and more distant from the source. With each new circle there are more and more people affected. These people are coworkers, casual friends and acquaintances, and the larger community. Distance from a tragedy does not diminish anyone's feelings, but should act as a reminder to consider the appropriateness of public expressions of mourning. We can often confuse our empathy or compassion with genuine feelings of personal grief over the loss. Or more often than not, a tragedy reminds us of something from our own past, and strikes a nerve prompting us to relive the heartache we previously experienced.
In a world that seems to be constantly full of tragedy, death, and sadness it is my hope that we can all help lighten the burden of grieving without being disrespectful to those most immediately impacted or being consumed by our own pain.