Understanding Ambiguous Loss During CO-19

We’ve moved into a new season of “social distancing” in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. In doing so, families around the world face unchartered territory.

Ordinary daily gatherings have been suspended.

Schools have shut down.

Some folks work from home.

Our survival right now seems to hang on our willingness to separate.

But this is really hard!

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To stay at home means to say goodbye; indefinitely and without agency.

We don’t know how long this is going to last. And there’s so much that exists beyond our control. It points to our yearning for safety and security as well as our existential negotiation for autonomy and choice. Those are common themes of “loss” that some adoptees navigate throughout their journey.

These days I’ve been struck by conversations both online and in my clinical work. Over time a pattern begins to emerge.

Here are just some of questions and concerns that have come up recently in our adoption community:

“When will this be over?”

“In my place of birth, many people have died. Are my birth parents ok? What about other members of my birth family?”

“How are the people at my orphanage doing?”

“I like staying at home, no one picks on me.”

“Will I be safe if I go out in public? I don’t want to get attacked.”

“Our adoption process has been suspended, we’re worried about our child’s safety and wellbeing.”

“I miss my friends.”

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These are all normative responses. And I’m so grateful to have had the chance to sit with folks (virtually of course!) in those threads and interactions.

In this new season of social distancing, it could be be helpful to catch a little refresher on Ambiguous Loss (written by JaeRan Kim) and see how it might be applicable to your personal circumstances.

The main idea is ambiguous loss can include the psychological presence of another, coupled with their physical absence. The person may not be dead, but they are not present. How might that apply to COVID-19?

JaeRan Kim writes:

“For adoptees who experience ambiguous loss, the birth family may be present psychologically in their mind well into adulthood. The ways ambiguous loss can show up in an adoptee’s life may be unexpected. For example, one adoptive parent related that it took her several years to understand why her child had such a difficult time on the last day of school each year. While other children were rejoicing, her child would have emotional meltdowns in the classroom. It finally dawned on the mother that the losses on the last day of school were overwhelming to her child. The child saw the last day of school as the loss of a relationship with the teacher, the loss of an expected routine, and the loss of the daily interaction with classmates and friends. The last day of school was yet another extension of the ambiguous losses her child was experiencing.”

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If you’re navigating complex feelings and struggle to put words to it, you might consider how ambiguous loss plays a role in your experience. If you’ve noticed your children wrestling with these major transitions to their daily life, it’s possible there are layers of ambiguous loss being worked out.

Of course, we’re not assuming these to be the case, that’s why it’s important to talk through these ideas carefully and thoughtfully with an adoption-informed professional if you have further curiosities.

JaeRan provides some excellent activities to help folks process loss, grief, and the ambiguity of these themes. Use them as a launchpad to explore what you need during this time as you examine your unique and dynamic situation.

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I appreciate JaeRan’s final words and include them here as a conclusion:

“The aim is not to eliminate ambiguous loss, but to help our families learn to live with ambiguity and the full range of feelings that accompany it.” 

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2 thoughts on “Understanding Ambiguous Loss During CO-19

  1. Thanks for sharing our Creating a Family piece. We loved Katie’s book and her interview with us is a great resource as well!

    Like

    1. You are welcome, thanks for providing it to our community!!

      Like

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