Maybe we’re all dealing with ambiguous grief.

January 17, 2022

Last night I developed a fever along with aches and chills. I assumed that COVID had finally caught up with me. I have been sick with a respiratory illness for 5 straight weeks…going through COSTCO level amounts of Kleenex, Advil and Mucinex. And I’ve taken 5 COVID tests assuming that it had gotten me, including the one I took last night.

Nope. Negative. All 5 tests for the past 5 weeks. Today I head to my doc hoping for some kind of understanding…resolution.

That’s why I’m writing this post. I’m not looking for sympathy. Many people have faced much worse in these disease-dominated days. No, I just want to highlight the deep ambiguity I feel.

Whatever ails me, it’s just one of the “losses without conclusion” that have framed my life in the past 2 years. I’ll bet you have them too. Here are just some of the ongoing sources of unresolved grief I’ve heard from many of the people I coach: Upended work life, family fractures, virus anxiety, national unrest, death and illness, financial angst, life disorder, loss of community and friends, pervading sadness, sense of foreboding, and loss of meaning.  And all of it without closure…lacking resolution.

When will it ever end? Will it? Are we suspended in grief?

This may partially explain “the great resignation”…the “Big Quit”. People are leaving jobs in record numbers, and they are not returning. Could it be that their sense of meaning has faded as their stress and ambiguous grief have risen? When things are so confusing and stressful, it is normal for people to seek a radical change to try to resolve the confusing loss. So, they retire early, leave the world of corporate America for self-employment, move out of town, or just change jobs looking for resolution of the inner turmoil.

All of this became much clearer to me yesterday morning as I took a long walk (before the fever took me down) and listened to the podcast “The Daily” from the New York Times. I was captivated by an interview with social scientist, Pauline Boss who has pioneered research on this idea of “ambiguous loss”. Her early work was summarized in the book Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief.  More recently she has published The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a Time of Pandemic and Change. I am looking forward to reading it to help explain some of my own feelings, as well as give me thoughts that I can pass on to the people I coach, those who are struggling with well-being and meaning.

Here are some of Dr. Boss’ insights I gathered from the podcast and NYT article, “What if there’s no such thing as closure?” Meg Bernhard, Dec 15, 2021

“We’re living in a time when the global community is grappling with questions of atmospheric grief.”

 “We’re experiencing a sensation of limbo for family members, a lingering sense of grief over losses whose nature is uncertain, losses without conclusion in the traditional sense of the term, a loss that eludes resolution.”

 “…an accumulation of heart breaks that we cannot always recognize.”

 “The five stages of grief model implies that if we work hard enough and follow certain steps, we’ll be able to get over our losses within a reasonable timeline. Boss suggests that our reliance on those kind of linear models does not always equip us to cope.

Stay tuned for more of my processing. I hope it will be as enlightening to you as it, so far, has been to me. And, having begun musing on ambiguous loss and its impact on our well-being and sense of meaning, I am doubling down on my belief in the worth of Destinyworks, which was created “for such a time as this.”

We offer the means for you, your community, your employees, your people to wrestle with well-being and meaning. You’ll discover a new language, a new pathway, and new insights that may not bring closure but will inspire hope.

Contact me about our personal, life-changing, one-on-one coaching.

Employers and organizational leaders, reach out to me about the 3-hour workshops we offer on destiny and well-being that will be a boon to your people.

Destinyworks is here to help you and your people navigate this ambiguous life.

And now…I’m headed back to the couch wondering if it’s time for more ibuprofen.


















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