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According to a local mental health professional, many people experienced ambiguous losses throughout the pandemic and by acknowledging them, the healing process can begin.
"Let’s talk about loss during COVID," says counsellor Wayne Friesen with Recovery of Hope. "There’s a specific term that’s used for loss that isn’t clear, that isn’t official and it’s called ambiguous loss. The term was coined in the 1970’s by Pauline Boss and it’s been very helpful in situations where a loved one goes missing, has had a brain injury and they are not themselves or a disease like dementia. Ambiguous loss isn’t like a typical loss that everyone notices and is very clear-cut."
Friesen shares that people have lost a lot during the pandemic and it’s important to know what to do with those losses.
"Ambiguous loss refers to loss that isn’t very clear and doesn’t have verification. Think about a family member who goes missing and is never found. The understanding may be that they’re deceased but there’s no body or official verification. There is no finality that everyone recognizes. While most of the losses we’ve suffered during the pandemic are not that dramatic, there are similarities. Ambiguous loss can make a person feel very isolated and they may have a very hard time making sense of their experience in part because it’s not even clear to them."
The pandemic forced people to abruptly say goodbye to many different aspects of life. It’s really only now that a lot of people are coming to terms with what has all happened.
"What did we all lose during the pandemic that is important to be aware of but maybe difficult to notice or easy to dismiss? Sometimes we dismiss our losses because we don’t think they’re significant or because other people have lost those things too. However, dismissing them just makes things worse so we’re much better off acknowledging them. The list of losses is pretty long but here’s a few; the ability to celebrate (think graduations and weddings), the ability to say goodbye or end well (think about jobs ending, schools shutting down, etc and not being able to say goodbye), our normal coping mechanisms (think church, the gym, team sports), parental freedom (think forced homeschooling, no daycare, no friends or family time)."
Two of the hardest losses people encountered during the pandemic, especially the lock-down time, were not being able to be in hospital with sick loved ones and not being able to hold traditional funerals.
"Those losses are so difficult. The idea of someone we care about being alone in the hospital without companionship is so hard. To not have the ability to gather like we typical do for funerals took its toll. Humans have a big need to be together when we say goodbye to our loved ones. Those rituals and routines are helpful in the grieving process and their interruption was really hurtful and frustrating. Using Zoom and having memorials when restrictions were lifted were helpful but it still wasn’t the same as what we know."
There were aspects of loss throughout the pandemic that were also hard to name or pinpoint for people.
"From our routines, to income, celebrations and travel, our losses were many. It might be helpful to make a list of things you couldn’t do or missed out on. When you read over your list don’t dismiss anything. Rather, let yourself acknowledge and be sad about them. If we don’t grieve our losses well enough, they end up piling on top of each other, creating more frustration, a lack of energy and more fogginess than necessary. Ambiguous loss is complicated because it isn’t very clear or can be easily verified. But by acknowledging and being sad about what we loss in the pandemic we can move through our losses with more resiliency."