We’re Drowning in Ambiguous Loss

Each one of us has lost so much as a result of living through the first pandemic of our lifetimes. And the list of losses continues to grow every week, it seems.

In this country, the under-estimated death toll from Covid-19 is almost a million people.

And it isn’t the pandemic alone that’s piling up our losses. The climate crisis is already hitting us hard.

We’re also being forced to face this country’s underbelly of tragic individual and collective traumas, as democracy itself appears to be cracking under the strain of unacknowledged racism, social injustice and a firmly entrenched power-over model that’s catalyzing an outrageous have/have-not schism.

What’s Ambiguous Loss?

There’s a type of loss called “ambiguous loss,” first talked about by Dr. Pauline Boss. I’m reading her new book, which is called The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a Time of Pandemic and Change.

Ambiguous loss is a universal phenomenon, everyone experiences it. There are many different kinds, “from catastrophic (like the 2020 pandemic) to more common and everyday separations from breakups, divorces, adoptions, or leaving home due to immigration and migration”.

Living in through a pandemic can result in a multitude of ambiguous losses. The same is true for what’s happening with the climate, and with the global political situation.

With such a violent collision of losses and sorrows, it isn’t possible to simply breathe away our pain and grief.

So what do we do?! How do we handle all of this without falling down the rabbit hole of terrible despair and depression and overwhelming anxiety?

Coping Strategies

To begin, we learn how to hold the unbearable, starting with acknowledging that what we’re living through is unprecedented, overwhelming, and crazy-making.

There’s nothing wrong with you.

We allow ourselves to feel our feelings without drowning in them. Deep sadness, sky-high anxiety, terrible loneliness, unremitting outrage … yes! Let yourself be honest about how you’re feeling — not to get stuck in unhealthy rage or clinical anxiety or depression; of course not. Rather, to tell yourself the truth. It’s a total game-changer.

We let go of what no longer is, to release our death grip on ways of thinking and living that aren’t possible, at least right now. Process journaling, “Morning Pages” from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a little diary of feelings — writing it down is a powerful way to externalize and release pent-up emotions.

how to process ambiguous loss

For it’s time to begin releasing what we can no longer hold, to begin letting go, grieving our losses even as we continue to live them.

We’re going to be walking the path of ambiguous loss for quite a while; for some of us, perhaps the rest of our lives. 

Knowledge and understanding help us make meaning of the unimaginable. In doing the seemingly small actions I’ve shared with you here, you can begin to accept how it is: how you feel, what you’re mourning, what terrifies you, what brings a soft smile of joy.

I Want to Help You

And remember, we’re all in this together. If you’re confused, or unsure about anything, you can schedule a free 15-minute consult with me. Just send me an email: melanie@melanieharth.com, and we’ll talk about what’s going on.

Sending so much love to you (and a little bit of organic dark chocolate),

Melanie

Santa Fe therapist