Coping with ‘ambiguous loss’ is part of the new normal


COVID-19 has ushered in a new cultural paradigm. Since the adjustments required by COVID-19, our society has taken a massive shift, a shift that is unprecedented and unexpected. We have all been forced to make these adjustments.

On top of COVID-19 has come the ongoing racial injustices that are occurring all across the nation at alarming rates. This complex reality, on top of our intergenerational and historical trauma, has left many of us in a place where we can only take so much.

We have been saying, “I can’t breathe” for years now, and it has become a slogan to bring awareness to the murders of Black bodies, a mantra of our everyday life. We are dealing with all of this at once and it is causing significant pressure and complicated grief.

What is an “ambiguous loss”?

Unfortunately, being in this consistent state of frustration, confusion and stress ultimately highlights how much grief we have to process consistently. This grief can be understood as an ambiguous loss. Ambiguous loss is defined as the natural emotional response resulting from a significant disconnection.

This loss has to led to a grieving process that many of us are not aware of being in. Think about the number of people you know who are consistently in shock, distress, sadness, have trouble sleeping, have poor eating habits, and spend insufficient time concentrating. These are all common symptoms of ambiguous loss.

Over time, the hope is that these symptoms will go away. The challenge is this: If the symptoms do not go away, you may have to seek professional help.

What have we lost?

During COVID-19, we have lost more than we realize. Our entire lives have been shaken up. Here are just some of the things that we have lost:

Access: You can’t just go anywhere you like. There has been a considerable shift in when, where and how we can move.

Our Normal Routines: Think about distance learning, Zoom calls, social distancing. All of these things highlight a new way of life. Our practices of life may have forever been changed.

The Ability to Choose: The options we once had are now different. Some of our former options are still not available to us. The choice of doing what you want now comes with restrictions. Oh, and don’t forget your mask.
Connection: Some of us have lost relationships with others physically, spiritually, emotionally and socially. You can’t even be in a social setting and sneeze without feelings of guilt or shame.

Opportunities: Some of the things we thought were there for us at the beginning of 2020 are no longer there. This has created hardships for many during this time.
Lives of Loved Ones: The unfortunate reality is that people have passed during this pandemic. Whether the death has been from the pandemic or other reasons, processing death has been disturbed during this time. Think about how funerals have been—they are limited in attendance and often being live-streamed for others to attend.

How can we adjust?
If the stress and anxiousness have become too overpowering, it might be useful to connect with a mental health professional right away. Attempting to power through the emotions is not the healthiest or smartest thing to do.

Currently, there is not a clear end in sight from the pandemic or the racial injustices that we’re bombarded with. Therefore, we have to make sure we are taking the best possible steps to take care of ourselves.

Make sure you are regularly checking the state of your mind. Be honest with yourself. If the past few months have been abnormally hard for you to bear with, please seek out help from someone you trust or a professional.