Pauline Boss, a Family Therapist, coined the term "ambiguous loss."  Ambiguous loss is, in part, a conceptualization of grief that dismantles the popular idea of five tidy stages that once endured, end with closure. Closure is a seductive idea, but the reality of loss and grief, at least in my experience, has never been linear or finite. This summer I was startled to find fresh grief over something I thought I was through mourning. The poem that follows came out of that experience. 

I am diving into that bottomless blue pool
exploring the margins that grow wider
with each approach

Where is this pain? 
Where does it live on a cellular level? 
And can it be excavated? 

I know the answer to this last question, 
and still I dive deeper. 

But there it remains in an unreachable
fiber of my being

My world has grown larger. 
This pain will make it grow larger still. 

Just when I think I have tucked her in
for all of time, Grief reemerges,
sleepy, in her footy pajamas, rubbing
her eyes and drowsily sucking her thumb,
and she crawls into bed next to me. 

I know this pattern, and it is not
without tenderness that I greet her. 
She is a slip of a girl who needs
to be held, and so I do.


Several of my dearest friends are dealing with their own losses and manifestations of grief this week. As we talk, the line from Rilke, "I live my life in widening circles..." floats in the back of my head. The widening circles may provide a new perspective on, and relationship to, grief, but the process of saying goodbye to loved ones or to cherished ideas or hopes or expectations is revisited again and again throughout a lifetime.

I have been delighted to discover in my own life that keeping grief as a companion does not preclude joy. That closure is not in fact necessary for a happy life. And that living my life in widening circles ensures that there is in fact room for the full spectrum of human experiences to comfortably co-exist.