We all know what straightforward loss is: you lose someone or something and you know it because they or it are gone.
Losing hurts. Even losing minor things can be hard, like the silver, wide-banded ring with the big rectangular block of brown glass I used to wear on my forefinger until that night it wasn’t there anymore. I figured out it was either in my workplace restroom trashcan along with a paper towel I’d used, or dropped somewhere along Dirigo Drive during my lunch-time walk. I miss it every time I wear something that just cries out for a big brown statement ring, and I still occasionally find my eyes looking for it, scanning the sidewalk two years later. Even losing the silly stuff can be so painful. I’m serious – as much as I have tried to get over it, I really grieve over that ring!
That kind of loss – even when it’s monumental — is simple and straightforward in its not there-ness. And then there is ambiguous loss, when someone or something is gone but not really gone. Ambiguous loss is that awful situation when someone who goes missing is never found, creating uncertainty and denying resolution. Or Alzheimer’s, where someone is still physically there but not really there.
This kind of loss, ambiguous loss, generates a very particular sort of pain. Far less dramatic than Alzheimer’s or a missing person, an ordinary but still tragic-in-its-own-way variant of ambiguous loss is lived out on a daily basis when people are with each other but not really with each other because they are spending their attention on their phones or their passing preoccupations rather than the person they say they cherish or made plans to have lunch with or are sitting in a meeting with. We go away. From this sort of detachment, an epidemic of a different sort of loneliness and isolation emerges, whether we’re aware of it or not.
Today, though, today we could be full-body present at least once. Today, on one occasion maybe two, we could be truly, unambiguously present. We could come back.
This is a wellness offering this time in my role as a employee wellness specialist, instead of a story from my memoir, The Organization Project.