Loss, grief, and ambiguity

Everyone experiences loss at some point in their lives. Losing a loved one, a close friend or a beloved pet can plunge us in to despair. Over the past three years I have lost my brother, my mother and several friends. I relied heavily on close friends to help me process my grief, and, thankfully, they took the time out of their busy lives to support me.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described the five stages of grief in her ground-breaking book, "On Death and Dying." According to Ross, there are five predictable grief stages that lead to eventual closure: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. That is of course if one does not get stuck at a particular stage of grief. Amongst Buddha's teachings was a treatise on grief that, roughly translated, states, "the avoidance of pain is the root of all neurosis." In other words, if we seek to avoid the pain associated with loss, we may never arrive at closure. A clever friend of mine once said, "You can't leave it if you don't grieve it."

Death confronts us with an absolute and incontrovertible reality; death takes the departed from us. Some grief is more ambiguous and only marginally less painful.

Grief can be generated by other kinds of losses that do not involve death. When romantic relationships disrupt, often one party or both parties are left with the grief of that disruption. For some, that loss may reach all the way back to grade school, high school or college. The loss of a close friend can leave us feeling ambiguous in our grief. A friend that moves away to further their education or to take a job far away can leave us feeling torn. While we are happy that they are arriving at a much desired goal, we are sad that they will not be in our lives that much anymore.

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