I was unfamiliar with the idea of ambiguous loss until only recently when I heard it explained by the rather famous psychotherapist Esther Perel on an episode of On Being with Krista Tippett, an equally famous podcast. Originally coined in the 1970s by Pauline Boss, also a relational therapist, ambiguous loss is most simply explained as loss without the opportunity for closure. Even when a loved one dies under the most tragic of circumstances, we generally have knowledge of the events that led to their death or may have even experienced those events firsthand. Despite our seemingly insurmountable feelings of grief, being armed with such understanding will eventually lead us to acceptance and closure. When the facts of death are unknown, however, such resolution remains beyond our reach. Consider the example of losing a loved one to a disappearance or kidnapping, to an act of war or terrorism, or to a natural disaster. All of these cases deal with the concept of “physical absence with psychological presence.” Our loved one is gone, but we are unable to fully accept this as fact because the circumstances of their death or disappearance remain remote and unexplained, rendering them impossible to process. Similarly, there are instances when we know where a person is or what has happened to them, but our relationship has changed because of circumstances like separation, divorce, or incarceration, and contact may become unwelcome, restricted, or even prohibited. The very modern occurrence known as “ghosting” would also fall into this category, in the sense that when a relationship ends without explanation or an opportunity for conversation, it can feel very much like a death or disappearance. Closure and acceptance can take years.
Since I had the opportunity to be away for a few days this weeks, I decided to reprise one of my favorite vacation posts that I wrote back in 2018. It was actually part of the Monday Poetry in a Glass series I was doing at the time. The poem I chose was a haiku poem about a dragonfly, written by Matsuo Bashō.
The dragonfly Can’t quite land on that blade of grass.
I was struck by the poem’s simplicity back then in much the same way as I am now, but I remember the that there was something additional that made me gravitate towards this particular one. I felt compelled to write about it. There was an incident that happened while I was at the beach that August involving a dragonfly that flew into the house one night in the midst of a bit of chaos. It was, without a doubt, the largest dragonfly that I’d ever seen, absolutely beautiful in shades of iridescent blue and green, and it caused quite the commotion as it tried to navigate its new surroundings. My daughter has a no-kill policy when it comes to most insects, and so we’ve all become very adept at catching things carefully and helping them find their way back outside. This dragonfly, however, tested all my skills. After 15 minutes of Herculean effort that probably should have been captured on YouTube, I managed to coax it into a colander and return it to safety. After things calmed down, I couldn’t help but think about how incongruous it was that it had found his way into the house in the first place. Dragonflies are not nighttime bugs. It should have been sleeping in the marsh somewhere. Did this one have a particular message for me?
Two days ago the biggest super moon of 2022 graced us with its fullness. This particular July spectacle is called the Buck Moon because it coincides with the point in summer when the antlers of male deer have reached their largest size. As many of you know, every moon also has a symbolic interpretation that’s closely tied to the name assigned to it by The Farmer’s Almanac. Sometimes these meanings are a bit obscure, or their correlation is very broad, but that’s not the case with this moon. We can grasp its signification fairly easily, and we quickly understand that it’s all about channeling our own potential for growth while recognizing what might be standing in our way. The energy of any full moon, in general, is always about releasing that which does not serve us. This particular full moon pushes us to let go of the impediments that are preventing us from taking the next steps on our journey, the ones that will challenge us to grow and become what we’re meant to be. Does this all sound a bit over the top to you? It should. Full moons are loaded with drama, especially those that are incredibly big like this one. Not only do super moons outshine other full moons in terms of clarity and brightness, but they also score higher on the energy and impact scale as well.
Last week I decided to reread Ghostwritten, one of my favorite books by David Mitchell. If you’ve never experienced his work, you absolutely should. Very soon. This particular novel was his first, and although it has always been highly praised for a level of complexity and finesse not often found in debut fiction, the one fault expressed by critics was that it was considerably reminiscent of books written by the Japanese author, Haruki Murakami. Because I love Murakami, I’ve read a fair amount of his writing and could certainly see how the comparison was fair, but rather than dissuade me from reading Mitchell, just the opposite occurred. I have been a fan ever since. Ghostwritten is a collection of interwoven narratives placed in many different settings that are linked together in a way that creates a very satisfying puzzle with the just the right level of challenge. In the second chapter, two characters are having a conversation in a Tokyo record store when one of them looks wistfully out the window and says, “The last of the cherry blossom. On the tree, it turns ever more perfect. And when it’s perfect, it falls. And then of course once it hits the ground it gets all mushed up. So it’s only absolutely perfect when it’s falling through the air, this way and that, for the briefest time…” Mitchell’s language is extremely simple here, and the concept he is expressing is equally comprehensible, but something about these lines gave me pause, and I found myself wanting to think about their deeper meaning a whole lot more.
My daughter Wendy and I were recently away for a day or so, and we had one of those deep conversations that mothers and daughters tend to have when they find themselves sharing a bed late at night when the rest of the world seems to be sleeping. There is something about the darkness and the quiet that makes it the perfect time for remembering secrets long forgotten. I feel this way about late night talks with any of my kids. They always make me think of the countless hours spent together when they were very young, and I was the one who could make them feel safe from all the things in the world that had the potential to truly scare them. This particular discussion didn’t really begin as anything spooky, but it quickly moved in that direction as soon as Wendy brought up the house that we lived in from the time she was born in 1989 until my mom died in 2011. She described it as an epic place to grow up, which made me smile because I knew exactly what she meant. The house was anything but epic in size or stature; in fact, by many development house mini-mansion standards, it would be considered quite small. Yet if you looked at it from overhead you would see that the yard had many different areas: a pool, a deck, a vegetable and a rose garden, and two shady spots with benches, giant hostas, and ivy. There were flowers everywhere, a butterfly garden, a front porch, a back porch, a garage, and a row of large fir trees that bordered one entire edge of the property suggesting more seclusion than was ever true in reality. The inside of the house was similar with lots of nooks and crannies, making it seem so much larger than it appeared from the street, and there was a definite swirling energy that seemed to move as if on a current of air, rushing into this corner or that one and holding in places that became palpable for all of us at different times.