Humans are social beings; we attach, bond and connect with people every day. The natural desire to connect also leads to a natural response when we must part with people or situations. That response is grief. While death being the obvious and most severe form of separation, what about all the other types of loss we experience every day? What airtime do those get? Grief shows up in break-ups, moves, disability, divorce, and unmet expectations among others.
A supervisor of mine recently suggested reading the work of Pauline Boss, PhD., who has been a professor at the University of Minnesota and at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Boss writes about “ambiguous loss.” This type of loss she says differs from ordinary loss in that there is “no verification of death or no certainty that the person will come back or return to the way they used to be.” The ambiguity of such losses prevents closure and often impairs an individuals or family’s functioning.
While ambiguity can stifle the grieving process, there are two other major obstacles to processing a loss.
Obstacles to Grieving:
When we think of grief, we usually think of death. While death is something to be mourned, I have found through my work that people experience “small losses” every day. It seems to be socially acceptable to mourn someone’s passing, but less so when mourning a relationship or hopes for our child’s future. While I am not suggesting we grieve a divorce in the same way we do the death of a parent, I do believe that these smaller losses evoke similar emotions and reactions and should be treated with the weight and gravity with which we actually feel them.
Resistance to Change
Another human trait is that we are usually quite resistant to change. Grief and loss are big changes. Part of the pain in loss is resistance to change and an unwillingness or un-readiness to accept the present. Staying with the feelings does not mean you are dwelling on it; it simply means you are being fully present and acknowledging what is. It is a similar idea to skiing or snowboarding; when we go with inertia and stop fighting against it we are much more able to balance and navigate our downhill journey.
Resist the urge to resist, with mindfulness!
The tools of mindfulness allow us to acknowledge the reality of a situation. Mindful techniques can help us become aware of the reactions (physical & emotional) and the feelings we have (fuzzy-headed, angry, betrayed, abandoned, guilt, tightness in chest, twisting stomach, etc).
The most important piece of mindfulness in grieving loss is that it helps us lean into the discomfort of the present moment. When we experience loss, we feel a plethora of emotions that can be overwhelming, intolerable, and uncomfortable. Mindfulness helps us accept those experiences in the present moment without judgment, resistance, or trying to make it better. Similarly, Dr. Boss says “resilience is based on being able to accept ambiguity and find hope amid uncertain conditions.”
For resources, tips & activities on mindfulness, visit “Mindful Living: Awaken to the Present.”
6 Mindfulness Exercises To Try from Mindfulexercises.com
Just as connecting with others is natural, so is grieving. Grieving helps us make meaning and sense out of what has happened. It speaks to the connection we have with someone or something. Give yourself time, space and permission to grieve the every day losses that we experience.
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” –Kahlil Gibran
As always, feel free to leave questions and comments as your experience contributes to the LA Therapy Spot Community.
- Loss, Trauma, and Resilience: Therapeutic Work with Ambiguous Loss- Pauline Boss, PhD.
- Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief - Pauline Boss, PhD.
- Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss- Sameet Kumar, PhD.