The definition of ambiguous loss, according to our old, sometimes unreliable, friend Wikipedia is:
Ambiguous loss is a loss that occurs without closure or understanding. This kind of loss leaves a person searching for answers, and thus complicates and delays the process of grieving, and often results in unresolved grief.
This therefore is the idea of grieving for something or someone, or a situation, that is gone but not lost. For example, we may feel ambiguous loss for a grandparent suffering with dementia, as they are mentally “checked out” but still physically here. We may feel ambiguous loss over our parents divorcing, as we grieve for what once was, but what is not truly gone. I can tell you I definitely felt a form of this when my Father divorced for the second time and the dynamic of the house changed suddenly from what was an ostensibly happy family, to a group of individuals who were entirely lost on their path in life. I felt genuine grief, as if I had lost a part of myself, and a part of my past. I cried for my loss, the change, how much I would have to adapt, as well as the sale of our family home. I am surprised my tears didn’t cause some sort of county-wide flood actually!
I have decided that mental illness leaves us with a form of ambiguous loss too. My mental illness has made me grieve for years. What have I been grieving for?
- What I’m not
- What I’m yet to be
- The feelings I have let take over me
- The loss of my family unit
- The loss of my family house
- The experiences I have missed out on
- The life I thought I would have
- The people I have let down, and will let down in the future
- The way I have given in to my anxiety and depression and let them control me
- How sad I have been
- The friends I have lost
- The tears I have cried
- How my childhood has been shaped by things that children should not have to see, or feel, or go through
- How I have treated people
- How I have treated myself
- The lack of self esteem I have had, and how much I have neglected my mind and body
- The lack of food I have eaten
- The anger I have harboured
- How many times I have wanted to die
- The thoughts I have had
- The hatred I have felt for myself
- How little I knew about helping myself
- How little I accepted help
- How I injured myself.
I have felt ambiguous loss for so many things for all my life, without even really realising that this was the case. The grieving process is draining, and oh how it has drained me. As a child, I did not have the cognitive development to understand all that I was feeling, losing and grieving for. However, now, in my 22 year old fairly self-aware state, I can see what was going on, and as a result, forgive myself for all that I felt, said and did to punish myself and those around me. The thing is, I’m not a horrible person, in fact, I know that my heart is nothing but good. The problem was, I was lost, lost-er than lost. And now, I’m not far off being found. So, I have grieved, I have now accepted my loss, and the loss of all that was and could have been, and I can move on. I can move on in the knowledge that I know better now, and I know what I need in my life. I can accept any future feelings of ambiguous loss for exactly what they are, recognise them as they arrive, and ride them like a wave until they are out of my life.
We don’t have to just grieve for things that are lost and no longer with us, we can grieve for change, and for what once was. We can grieve for the loss of a presence in our lives, broken friendships, and for who we once were. We can even grieve for who we want to be and whom we can’t quite find. We can grieve for the things we have yet to discover.
I found this quote and found it particularly relevant to the process of accepting grief over what could have been, and what was, and moving forward to tomorrow:
The most important thing is to recognise that grief comes in all shapes and sizes, and as most will know, follows a process. This process is difficult, challenging, emotional and trying. But you’ll get through. It is important to be kind to yourself no matter what is going on, to forgive yourself, to take a breath, feel what is really going on, let in the emotion and then let it go again, and be patient in the process of life.
You are handling more than you think you are, give yourself a break!