1. Slow meditative reading of the Psalms (prayer book of the Hebrew people) Ps 34 “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted.”
2. Other Scripture for help in ambiguous loss
a. Lamentations (whole book on lament)
b. Job (suffering doesn’t always come from sinning)
c. Beatitudes- “Blessed are those who mourn.”
3. Silence (Ecc 3:7, Hab 2:20)
4. Solitude (retreats—even at home—or outdoors in nature)
a. Grieve (sometimes a weakness for people) Jn 11:35
b. Examen (reflection)
What was life-giving today? What was life-thwarting today?
When did I best connect with God, self and others today? When did I least connect with God, self and others today?
6. Theological Reflection (adapted from Pauline Boss with additions)
a. Suffering is not always preventable (Job).
b. Accept the paradox of absence and presence (having and not having people—or in the case of COVID-19 “the world”—the way we once had them).
c. Be comfortable with uncertainty, mystery and doubt, remaining content with half-knowledge and unanswered questions (“My ways are higher than yours” Is 55:8, 9)
d. Remember hope
1. Hope in God or his Word is repeated throughout Scripture ( Ps 25:5, 42:5, 11, 43:15, Jer 14:22, Lam 3:21-23, Rm 8:38-39).
2. Hoping too long for what used to be erodes resilience.
3. Revised hope is a compromise and less than what’s desired but better than hanging on to unrealistic hopes.
4. Our hopes and dreams for staying connected to people must be transformed into something attainable.
5. Hope must be broader than the personal and include the relational–considering the greater good for family and community.
7. Connect with people (over 70 one-another passages in Scripture)
a. Tell your story of how you are doing (authenticity important).
b. Listen to others’ stories (don’t try to fix them).
c. Be gentle with each other (family, friends, coworkers). Ambiguous loss is called the most stressful of all losses.
d. Participate in group spiritual direction (process the state of your soul in a group setting).
e. Be with others who have experienced the same kind of loss.
f. Find something new and positive to look forward to—some other human connection or a cause beyond ourselves that has meaning.
g. Read how others dealt with loss (receive language for loss).
Sittser- A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss
Wolterstorff- Lament for a Son
h. Create memorial rituals or ceremonies (brings the unconscious longing into a social context).
For years I longed to have some kind of ceremony for Zach (our son who became instantly severely disabled for life through a football injury). After reading Pauline Boss I knew why. She explains,
Social rituals are containers of values and are ceremonies that help us through tough transitions…[They] remind us and those around us that a transition (with its gains and losses) has taken place. At the same time, rituals create a social space for unrestrained (but culturally informed) expression of emotions and for active connection with our personal social network that enhances social support and resonates with joys, appeases pains, shares hopes, and mourns the truncation of dreams. Rituals help, unless…they cannot be performed, as when ambiguity of circumstances makes a ritual socially inappropriate and a display of emotion questionable (Boss, Loss, Trauma, and Resilience, p. xiv).
For an example of a two ceremonies see our book Hit Hard: One Family’s Journey of Letting God of What Was and Learning to Live Well with What Is