I listened to Krista Tippett interviewing Pauline Boss this week. Ms. Boss is a writer and therapist who established a new field of research on grieving when she coined the phrase “ambiguous loss.” She realized that there are many, many types of loss that lack the “closure” we have been taught to desire when dealing with difficult experiences. The lack of closure, but very present experience of loss, she termed “ambiguous loss” – a severing or separation that can’t be easily boxed up or put aside or resolved. For example, the intimate loss that many are going through with loved ones affected by dementia. Relationships are significantly altered by the changes that occur, but the person is still physically present. The textbook case – a person’s expected and natural death in old age – has become the minority report, and what many experience is so much more complex and “ambiguous.” On a larger scale, the almost daily frequency of national and global tragedies influence us deeply, but do not affect us directly. Yet, despite physical or geographic separation, we experience profound emotion.
Boss explains that loss is actually not something that, on the one hand, needs to be put aside, or, on the other hand, be pathologized. Loss and grief are natural emotions in the face of unnatural, unexpected, and unresolved tragedy. We learn to live in the midst of the loss, letting it be a part of us, and, as Ms. Boss says “learning to become comfortable with what we cannot solve.”
Embodying grief – our own, as well as being willing to hold the grief of others – is humbling and transforming practice. We need artists and poets and imagination to help us. In scripture, the poetry of the Psalms is one place where we find the tension, expressed, and yet, not easily resolved.
This week’s music articulates some of the feelings that can be part of ambiguous loss. Whether the grief is tangibly present, or tucked away behind busyness and everyday life, we all have experienced loss. Perhaps some of this music will create space for living in the midst of the ambiguity.
Henryck Gorecki, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
Listen to the Interview between Krista Tippett and Pauline Boss