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.
I too had an “absent father”, although he always lived with us. His addiction to alcohol and work absented him from his fathering role. What is the fathering role? To stand in as a guide, supporter, provider and protector long enough for the child to develop their own capacities and connect to the True Source of guidance, support and orientation.
My frozen feeling was fear, anxiety. I suffered from a hole of feeling taken care of by anyone and a feeling of inadequacy to take care of myself. What could be a better recipe for anxiety?? My personality’s way of coping with this suffering was a pattern of seeking someone or some system to take care of me, give me answers, and provide me with security. I was willing to self-abandon in return for this.
As all ego patterns do, this one kept me from ever developing my own capacities and connecting to my True Nature, the source of guidance and support, thus perpetuating itself. What is it taking to undo this pattern? To see it, name it, allow it, and when the anxiety comes, to suffer it consciously without attempts to use my ego strategies to fix it. It is in that place that the grace of God finds me and the gift of courage develops. The courage to get still enough to connect with the Ground of Being.
Does this mean I no longer need any external guidance and support? No. I connect with others on the journey who support me in finding and trusting True Nature within and without. My hard-won gift of guidance and orientation that comes from the Ground of my Being is what I have to offer as a support to others.
Your essay is timely. I think this is an issue up for a lot of us right now, shifting our relationship to the unconscious grief that runs our lives.
I was just recently reading Alice Miller’s pioneering book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, a slim and potent volume, both timeless and of its time. One of the thrusts of the book is the necessity of our discovery and unflinching acknowledgement of our wounds and deprivations of childhood (often at the hands of blamelessly wounded parents), which went masked and ungrieved; and while recognizing that nothing in the original wounds can be fixed, none of the original hungers sated, the wounds can and must be fully mourned, in order for us to evolve and heal and parent ourselves, consciously and compassionately.
You mentioned the importance of naming in order to distinguish between the self and the wound. I agree, yet I’d like to also point out the value of, at a deeper level, acknowledging that all our personal wounds and grief and fear stem from a universal one we all share, the belief—promoted by the appearance of separate selves and bodies—that we are separate (from each other and our source) and therefore vulnerable to such wounding in the first place, that we can be abandoned and lost, and somehow to blame for it; exiled.
That is the fundamental conundrum of human existence, which is echoed in all the rest. And so, as we tenderly hold the inner child so that it may forgive, we must also open to the fact that the one holding the child is held by something bigger, and all these nested dolls are holy and blameless and beautiful. And none of it can be completely understood, and all of it is completely forgiven.
“You will always bring the abandoned little girl with you,” my friend and spiritual director told me once. There is a place inside of me that always craved the Magical God to spread sprinkles all over my life and make everything better. I also had a dad who wasn’t there for me emotionally or spiritually, leaving me “the invisible child”. With life’s crises piling up over the last few years, job losses, major moves, empty nest, kidney surgery for myself, life-threatening surgery for my sister, amongst about 10 others not mentioned, there is a place still in me, that little abandoned girl who wants the Carnival Magical Candy God to blow a southern wind of confetti over the whole mess and buy an extra large cotton candy for me on the way out of the Exit gate. I am finding, though, that the self, the kind “I am” that holds the abandoned girl and carries her off the ferris wheel when the ride is too much, is the true parent that guides and works with the Divine. I’m learning that candied apples rot the teeth, but freshly picked ones nourish the body and the soul.