Freedom in Naming
I read these two phrases, ambiguous loss and frozen grief, in a recent article in the AARP magazine and felt a part of my soul had found a name.
I speak and write often about the importance of naming. All our feelings need a name. If we can’t give them their true name, we give them our own name and that gets us into serious trouble.
For most of my life, my ambiguous loss and frozen grief I have called Lynn or me or myself. I was the feeling and the feeling was me. I could not separate myself from this feeling.
Naming separates and distinguishes. Naming lets you revere and recognize. Naming must occur before things and feelings and relationships can find their place and become well-organized.
Before the naming of ambiguous loss and frozen grief, they were nameless feelings that lived everywhere like a life-blurring fog and imploding soul clutter. The fog was the loss and the grief – the little pieces of broken heart – was the clutter.
My Ambiguous Loss
Absent physically, present psychologically or vice versa…it is a trap of ambiguity.
For most of my childhood my father was physically absent, an agonizing void, but he was a huge psychological presence. There was no evidence that I mattered to him, yet I remained fiercely loyal and adoring. I felt he made me special and shaped the great fairytale of my life. I longed for him and longed for myself with enduring patience. I was like him. I was the absent father’s daughter-twin.
He was never there, but he was always there. He never protected me or provided for me, but always was the hero who would someday rescue me and meet all my needs. Most of my life was in suspension, frozen until his return.
My Frozen Grief
All the pieces of the heart of me that his lack of presence shattered, I gathered up and placed in fantasies of our special affinity and hid them away. I froze the daughter’s grief in those fantasies. There is a part of every daughter that can only be nurtured by a father’s active love. I could not grieve the loss of that love, because someday he would appear, shining brightly, and make me whole.
I could never feel the fire of my anger at the abandoning, neglecting father as that would have melted the frozen grief for my unfathered self, the part of me that died when he went away. I thought being the daughter faithful to the hope of the returning father was a great role to play. I didn’t see that it buried so much of all I wanted from life.
I also couldn’t bear the weight of the guilt. I thought that if I ever let go of the psychological father, killed the fantasy, released the longing, that I would be a murderer. That it really was my fault and my life would never ever be lived…no hope.
Grief is a two-fold mystery. There is the grief for the other who has left and the grief for the self that will never be without them. I could not acknowledge either grief – I could not mourn. Frozen grief is the failure to mourn. There was no black to wear, no way to let the world would know I was a fatherless daughter. There was just the blurring fog of ambiguous loss and the clutter of the heart shards, sharp and pointed, lying all over my life: my work, my relationships, my anxieties, my doubts.
What is yours?
In the light and warmth of this naming, I can reflect on the many conversations I have had with my clients and recognize how many have been about taking the ambiguity out of loss and thawing frozen grief. I’ve witnessed the coming alive, the flourishing of self, that follows these conversations.
What loss hides in ambiguity? What grief cannot be felt? What guilt weighs down your lonely innocence? What keeps you from mourning into a new life?
It doesn’t have to be your father. Or your mother. Maybe the ambiguous loss happened later in life through an adult relationship. Maybe through a career.
Frozen grief never ends. Active mourning resolves. You live again
This Michaelmas think about fire breathing dragons that freeze you in ambiguity. Thaw your frozen grief from within. Imagine the warmth of selfhood and the courage of I . The force to name and slay your beasts comes from the the sun within you.