I often lead grief workshops for families of people struggling with Alzheimer’s. We often talk about “ambiguous” grief. It is the most difficult of all forms of grief because there is not definitive end like in a physical death.
In ambiguous grief the losses are relentless and tend to accumulate upon each other. For instance, with Alzheimer’s, the loss may start with mom briefly forgetting certain things. The losses continue to occur until you struggle with the loss of mom not remembering who you are. They continue and build. It’s tough.
In this time of COVID-19 shutdowns and disruptions of so called “normal life”, the losses of previous certitudes can pile up. There doesn’t seem to be definitive end that we can have a definitive memorial and move on. The losses today seem to have no end.
Here are some strategies for dealing with today’s ambiguous grief:
-Find healthy ways to mourn daily. Grief is what we feel about a loss, mourning is what we do with that feeling. Learn to find appropriate ways to mourn, such as walking, prayer, or good conversation with a friend.
-Use the “F” word liberally: “Flexibility”. Being able to flex in a world of flux is a true skill indeed. We have to “go with the flow” as they say, and not be so rigid in our response to today’s losses. My grandfather was stubborn, and when he hurt his neck, he would strain through pain to say “No” when he was asked if it hurt. This refusal to admit to pain ultimately prolonged the solution for it. Admit to the pain of today’s losses and learn to give in to it so healing can begin.
-Pursue Joy rather than happiness. Happiness is baked into our national consciousness. It is a right after all. But happiness is fleeting. We chase after it and have it for a while and then it’s gone. Joy, on the other hand, chases us. In the midst of the worst circumstances, joy can seep in and surprise us. I believe this is proof that another, better world world is speaking to us in our pain and confusion.
Today’s massive changes and losses are tough and at times agonizing. There are losses that as of yet seem to have no end for us to memorialize and move on. This ambiguous grief is the most painful of all. There is a lot of pain from the losses today, and we are all in need to healing. Mourning, using the “F” word, and pursuing joy are all ways to move through the losses.