The Pandemic and Ambiguous Loss

Life On Hold

“Stress in the face of a pandemic can take the shape of frozen grief.” Sarah B Woods, PhD, LMFT

I came across several articles about the pandemic and ambiguous loss and I found them to be very helpful in understanding and putting into perspective some of my feelings. Ambiguous loss is a theory developed by Pauline Boss in the 70’s when she was researching fathers who were detached from their families due to work or military deployment. She later expanded her research to include all losses involving unresolved circumstances.

The pandemic has dramatically changed our lives in so many ways and there is no end in sight. Many are grieving the loss of a loved one which is made even more challenging due to the inability to say goodbye. There is an overall sense of loss and grief that is affecting the whole country – the whole world. We’re grieving the loss of normalcy and recognizing that can begin to put things in perspective. Our daily routines have been dramatically altered. It is unsafe to go out into public without a mask. Social distancing is an ever present reality. Many businesses have closed or have had to alter their hours. People have lost jobs. Those who are still working may be doing so from home. We are physically separated from family and friends and as a result, can feel very isolated. We are missing out on holiday gatherings, birthday celebrations and so much more. These are all huge losses an it is important to recognize that there is a lot of grief associated with that.

As a single older woman now working from home all day on a computer, I am realizing how isolated I feel. I have an adult son who I see every couple of weeks and some friends I stay in touch with by phone but I can go several days without leaving my apartment or seeing or talking to anyone I know. Even though I am an introvert by nature, this all feels pretty lonely. I have moments of feeling detached from things that are important to me and there is not much I really want to do. I was really wondering what was wrong with me until I read these articles about ambiguous loss. And while knowing this now doesn’t magically change everything, it does put things in perspective. I can separate myself from all this loss and know it’s not who I am as a person. To reference the exercise in my blog on resistance, I can say I accept that I am experiencing lonely and that’s ok. I accept that I am feeling detached and that’s ok.

Experiencing the pandemic and ambiguous loss is different for everyone. Whatever you are experiencing, I hope finally having a label for it helps in some way and lets it take some of the pressure off of you. Self care is more important than ever now along with recognizing you are not what you are experiencing.

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