I talked with a friend of mine who I have not seen since the middle of February. We had originally planned to meet the first of March. His family has a family member with a compromised medical condition. We used to see each other every other week and now it has been four months…almost half a year. He said, “I thought this would last a month and ½ at the most and just this week cases are spiking in our city. Who knows how long it will be before we see each other?”
This past Sunday at Zoom church we talked of how in every other disaster we would gather and figure out not only what we could do as individuals but what we could as a community. One person said I feel so cut off even from helping.
In psychological theory, there is a theory of Ambiguous Loss. The theory was developed in 1990’s. Researchers began early work focused on ambiguity operationalized by familial roles such as the uncertainty of one’s position in the family after a divorce or separation. The premise of ambiguous loss is the uncertainty or lack of information about the whereabouts or status of a loved one as absent or present.
When families are separated by military deployment , they hope for reunification but also know family member may never be the same. When a family goes through a divorce, they are still a family but in a different way and a redefinition of roles and family dynamics becomes a necessity. The goal is to find meaning in the situation despite the absence of information and persisting ambiguity. We must be resilient and resiliency means being able to live with unanswered questions.
What we have been experiencing with the CoVID-19 quarantine has some of the elements of the Ambiguous Loss as described in the theory but it encompasses more than that. The ambiguous unknowing is shared but this grief isn’t restricted to roles within a family dynamic. This loss is a collective loss of a way of life. There is a grief in loss of graduation celebrations or family birthday parties or the markers of school such as recitals and prom.
Perseverance, resilience, hope. How are these to be cultivated in these difficult days? We go back to the goal of therapeutic intervention in response of ambiguous loss: to find meaning in the situation despite the absence of information and persisting ambiguity. We persevere because we have to. Our children still need us and the mortgage still needs to be paid. It is just that sometimes it takes longer to do the simplest thing and there is a weariness of the isolation.
Years back, a friend of mine had a medical condition in which his organs were slowly shutting down and he was dying. I remember visiting him in the hospital. And one of my most poignant memories was being in the hospital gift shop staring at cards at a loss because he wasn’t going to get better so the sentiments were useless. I bought a plant instead and went up to see him. “How are you doing today?” I asked as I sat next to him. He said, “I am having to be creative with my suffering.” He went on to say, “I’ve had to rethink how I can show kindness and share love and how I do this from a hospital bed.”
His words always stuck with me especially when I am going through a long time of suffering. How can I be creative with acts of being kind and sharing love? There is a collective grief we are sharing with the loss of the ease of our way of life. The collective sorrow is changed a bit by the acts of individuals. We share the grief but we also have an opportunity to share the comfort.