Category Archives: Grief and Loss

Now What? We Die. Then We Rise.

www.livingviriditas.orgNow what?

We got walloped. Many of us are grieving. Many of us are worried and afraid. Many of us are angry. Most of us are all three. Some of us can barely function.

Friends, we’re being invited into the holy cycle of death and rebirth. Dying and rising again is written in our DNA and embedded in the structure of our world. Dying and rising again is the Way of the Cross.

These times are inviting us to grow up and become stronger, luminous, loving beings we can’t presently imagine.

But only if we do the work.

We are resilient. We can do this. We can die and we can rise.

This is what faith looks like. This is what Jesus did.

I think dying and rising again will look like this, for me. If this roadmap is helpful for you, I’m glad.

1. Be terribly sad. Be heartbroken. Be angry. Feel the feelings, but don’t get too attached to them. Take the time you need, but don’t wallow.

Fear is different than sadness or anger. Please don’t give in to the fear. Fear of the future is useless and disempowering. Recognize fear, and then bring your attention back to the reality of this present moment. Avoid spinning in fear and worry. Have compassion for people stuck in fear and worry, going down that rabbit hole. Help them if you can, and then get out. Sit down, focus on your body and your breath, and let your heart tell you what comes next.

2. When it’s time to rise, rise up. When it’s time, as Mary Oliver says, “Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also, like the diligent leaves.” You don’t have to get over yourself, and you’re not overreacting or being a bad loser. Take the time you need to heal. Do what you need to do to feel stronger. When you feel like you can, please get back in the arena. When it’s time to rise up, rise up.

3. Choose positive goals and words. We can only achieve positive things. We can’t accomplish a negative, because there’s nothing there. Stop, close your eyes, and say these phrases: “No hate.” “Be kind.” Which one feels more peaceful and powerful? I’m betting it was “Be kind.” Be clear on what you want. Let go of what you don’t want. Dream big. Dream outrageously.

4. Pick one area of focus. “Be a meaningful specific rather than a wandering generality,” to quote Seth Godin. Let your passion be your guide. If we all do this, we’ll cover the bases. I’m picking the environment, specifically climate issues and public lands. Be clear on both your line in the sand, and what you want to accomplish. I’ll chain myself to a tree if I have to. I’ll go to jail if necessary, to keep Oregon’s public lands protected.

5. Be part of supportive communities. As Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” Now, more than ever. Your community might be church. It might be wisdom circles, or neighborhood potlucks, or running groups.

6. Practice excellent self-care. Stay connected to your Source. Pray, meditate, take long walks, cherish your body, make music, whatever it is for you that keeps your spirit strong.

My friends, we are love warriors.

We can do this thing.

The Myth of Closure

“The Myth of Closure” is an essay written by psychologist Pauline Boss and her friend Donna Carnes about “ambiguous loss” and our belief that everything should have a resolution. (Dr. Boss was interviewed by Krista Tippett in On Being, accessed here.)

Ambiguous losses are those losses that aren’t clear cut – there’s often no body to bury.

Perhaps our loved one just disappeared and it’s possible they might actually be alive somewhere, as in 9/11, a tsunami, a kidnapping, or a death at sea.

Another type of ambiguous loss is when the person we love is actually still present in their body but removed from relationship with us. Examples of this type are mental illness, including addiction and PTSD, dementia, and injuries. The person as we knew them is gone, but there’s no clear cut avenue for mourning, and our grief may go on for decades before actual death.

Dr. Boss suggests, also, that many losses are in fact more ambiguous than we give them credit for being. Losses such as divorce, moving, and kids growing up are all potentially ambiguous.

Boss believes that, especially with ambiguous loss, being able to hold paradox is key to healing.

Thinking about ambiguous loss in a binary way – they’re either here or they’re not – requires some level of denial and untruth. The only true statement is a dialectic. It holds opposing ideas at the same time: They’re here AND they’re not here. “They’re probably dead, but maybe not.”

Boss believes that our Western intolerance for not knowing and lack of resolution is problematic for acceptance and healing. What she calls our “mastery orientation” is very uncomfortable with “losses that are minus facts.” The wide-spread and mistaken beliefs that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief apply to those left behind, they’re linear, and that people should be at some point done grieving are examples of that mastery orientation and discomfort with lack of resolution.

In human relationships “closure is a myth,” says Dr. Boss, and a growing number of mental health professionals agree.

There’s no such thing as closure for people suffering ambiguous loss. There’s also no such thing as closure for people dealing with clear uncomplicated grief. What there is, is paradox: She’s dead, I feel sad, and I’m okay.

Expecting closure and resolution in fact impede grief. Feeling sad is okay, for a long time and perhaps forever. We can live with grief. We’re okay.

Dr. Boss’s cowriter, Diana Carnes, knows about ambiguous loss first hand. Her husband, Jim Gray, went sailing out of San Francisco Bay one day in 2007 and hasn’t been seen since. Here’s a poem she wrote about ambiguous loss:

“Walk On.”

“You walk on still beside me, eyes shadowed in dusk. You’re the lingering question at each day’s end. I have to laugh at how open-ended you remain, still with me after all these years of being lost. I carry you like my own personal time machine, as I put on my lipstick, smile, and head out to the party.”

I’ve found this idea of holding paradox very helpful.

I can feel something inside me relax when I’m able to drop the either/ors about the events and people in my life that I grieve.

It’s normal to feel sad about loss, whether clear or ambiguous. It’s human to grieve for a long time, maybe for the rest of our lives. We can grieve and still be happy, when we drop the need to have clear resolution and closure.