There’s no one way.
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about modern spirituality and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. To get more content about how to infuse your life with thoughtfulness, reflection, and meaning, subscribe here.
Last week’s newsletter on ambiguous loss rang a bell for several of you, and many of you were kind enough to share with me and the community your own experiences of ambiguous loss or uncertainty, and any strategies you’ve developed to deal. So without further ado, this week I’m turning it over to you — my very wise, kind, compassionate audience, and your words of advice.
From Rebecca: A must-listen interview on ambiguous loss, if it hasn’t already come onto your radar — “There is no such thing as closure. In fact, Pauline Boss says, the idea of closure leads us astray. It’s a myth we need to put aside, like the idea we’ve accepted that grief has five linear stages and we come out the other side done with it. She coined the term “ambiguous loss,” creating a new field in family therapy and psychology. She has wisdom for the complicated griefs and losses in all of our lives and for how we best approach the losses of others.”
From Anastasia Zankowsky: I’m a social worker who works with folks with serious illnesses, at the end of life, and in bereavement. Just want to give you a different perspective on the concept of ambiguous loss. I could really go on and on, but with brevity: psychology has a history of thinking of very specific bonds and relational dynamics (think freud’s concept of maternal bonds) and thinking of grieving these bonds in a very static and linear fashion (think kubler-ross’ stages of grief). if someone grieves someone or something outside of these demarcated roles (like the death of a best friend, a lover in an extra-martial affair, a god-child, etc), these are also known as “ambiguous losses.” Now, put these relational dynamics into the contexts of societies at large. Grief is a communal, and relational, dynamic process. If our mourning is not held by others, or worse yet, if our grief is oppressed by others, it cannot heal. This can become “disenfranchised grief.” The study of this concept directly relates back to the history of AIDS in America, and the partners whose grief was not reflected by families of origin, faith communities, and the government, and families of origin who was often long removed from their child and often not present during the illness. But disenfranchised grief is applied to many processes…including a lot of taboo traumatic deaths (suicide, drug overdose, etc).
From Brittany: You asked how people deal with ambiguous losses, uncertainty and disappointment. I am not Buddhist, but learning about the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism several years ago has made a significant effect on my outlook of life. I was raised Southern Baptist and am now agnostic, and I was always unsettled by the question of why a god that supposedly loves us allows bad things to happen. Buddhism has an answer for this. The Four Noble Truths (paraphrased, obvs) are: 1. Suffering exists. (It just *does*. Once you accept that this is just a universal truth, you are better able to accept things like death, war, cancer, heartbreak, etc.) 2. Why does suffering exist? Suffering is caused by attachment. Attachment to power, attachment to money, attachment to life, attachment to specific outcomes. 3. It is possible to end suffering. The way to end suffering is by ending attachment. 4. The way to end attachment is by practicing certain methods taught in Buddhism. These practices are known as the Noble Eightfold Path, and include things like meditation, intentional living, the golden rule, speaking with integrity, etc. More here and here.
From Anonymous: I am currently dealing with infertility and last summer I had a miscarriage. I see that as “ambiguous loss” because I’m grappling with fighting for / giving up on being a mom, being pregnant, losing a baby, etc. Things that have helped me are doing things that remind me of who I am and what I am good at. I found this instagram account called, “mothers before”. It features photos of mothers before they became mothers, submitted by their daughters. It reminded me that I was always curious about — what was my mom like before she had me? What is my mom like as a person — and not as my mom? It helped me focus on doing all the things I loved to do before I went on this emotional and grief stricken path. How would my future child react knowing how I handled this life challenge? I guess I am saying, when things are uncertain, remind yourself of what’s true — your passions, your interests, your hobbies, whatever. Make a calendar of your day and try to fit in more of what makes reminds you of who you really are. Reading old journals, revisiting things you used to love, anything that filled you up before you went down this uncertain path.
Thank you all, dear readers. Your stories and strategies moved me, and I appreciate you sharing.