I’m always at loose ends several weeks before. I snap at Marty about nothing at all, and a low-grade sadness sandbags my existence. I can’t put my finger on the reason at first, and then I remember the anniversary of Michael’s death is coming up.
I try to resist the tidal wave, but in the three years since he died, I’ve learned to just go with it and feel the pain. This is a time to reexperience the gravity of his loss. Diving into the hole his absence has made in my life, I’m flooded with memories while I miss him in a way unlike any other day in the year. It’s gut-wrenching and throws my existence off-kilter.
Suddenly, I’m back in those rushed days of calling caterers for the church hall dinner, selecting flowers, finding the perfect portrait of his smiling face for the front of the chapel, and deciding which piece of music to give the violinist.
But crowding these details, I remember unnecessary hurts and pain—snubs at the hands of well-meaning church staff and even family members’ attempts to cut me out of the very end-of-life activities that helped me to heal.
According to Dr. Pauline Boss, the author of ambiguous loss theory, ambiguity comes into play when we feel grief is open-ended. In reality, she says, this kind of closure is a lie society tells us. It’s a myth perpetuated due to the predominately American belief that grief should have a beginning and an end.
But those of us who’ve experienced loss know this isn’t true. No matter how much closure we think we have, feelings of sadness and the intermittent, unexpected onslaught of depression will continue to happen as long as we have memory.
They’ll occur less frequently and lose some of their intensity, but they’ll always be there—just like the person we lost—ready to teach us a life lesson or remind us of their importance to our existence, to who we were, and who we will become.
Dr. Boss asserts that ambiguous loss happens primarily when a person loses someone in a way that results in their having no concrete proof of death, such as kidnapping or disappearance. Another example would be the loss of a child through a divorce or when we’re estranged from someone we care about.
I would argue that individuals from the LGBTQ+ community experience their own version of ambiguous loss when they’re excluded from the end-of-life activities that straight spouses take for granted.
While I can support the idea that closure is a myth, the reality is that those of us who experience loss need to go through these sad but productive rituals to come to grips with the absence it entails. We all have the right to grieve when we face loss. And when we don’t get the chance, we’ll likely have problems getting on with our lives, whatever form getting on takes. And isn’t that what’s important? If we’re all allowed to mourn completely, we can walk toward new beginnings with our hands planted firmly in the hand of those we’ve lost.