Collective Grief... The Way Things Used To Be.
Updated: Sep 24, 2022
The Queen, Sidney Poitier, Olivia-Newton John, Bob Saget, James Caan… I could keep listing but I think you know where I am going.
2022 continues to churn forward with what feels like an almost daily announcement of someone or something that has passed away, changed, or will no longer be.
While this year, just like all passages of time, has its regular participation in the ‘circle of life’, we continue to be extra sensitive and raw from the lingering shadow of the pandemic.
Whether we realize it or not, we are all grieving the way things ‘ used to be’.
Almost every citizen of the UK and its commonwealth cannot remember a time when Queen Elizabeth II was not alive and visible in some way. Images on their currency, their televisions, and portraits on their school walls. It is now “the way things used to be”.
So whether it’s the Queen, our favorite actor from our childhood, an artist, or maybe it’s the way used to live our lives pre-pandemic. The way things used to be is very fresh in our minds these days.
This is what psychologist and therapist Pauline Boss has coined as Ambiguous Loss.
I did a TEDx Talk about Ambiguous Loss earlier this year which you can view here -Ambiguous Loss to Tragic Optimism.
Ambiguous Loss is when you have a continuous connection to someone or something that you can't quite possess or find, that’s Ambiguous Loss. This can be a real or physical absence or a psychological absence.
In my TEDx Talk, I talk about my own personal losses and experiences. We all have them both individually and collectively. Some are great and very real like the loss of a loved one or ambiguous, like the loss of the Queen or some other ‘secure’ way things used to be.
But here is what I have learned about grief and loss- whether individual or collective. No matter how it hits you, and it definitely will, learn to feel it, sit with it, and let it do its very meaningful work. Contemplate it, and you will eventually see a very tiny glimpse of light and life that starts to spring forth. Just like a tiny shoot from an acorn that is breaking through the dirt, you will see and sense a new doorway creek open slightly.
This is what I have come to see and believe is tragic optimism. Not emotional avoidance. Not reframing something sad and calling it good. But a true awareness that change, however it occurs, however painful, ALWAYS births a new reality. And this reality offers hope and opportunity outside of and instead of “the way things used to be”.
But you cannot have one without the other. They go hand in hand. Loss and Grief… then tragic optimism. It is a passing through, not a jumping over.
As Viktor Frankl once said, “I speak of a tragic optimism, that is, an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.”
I hope you join me in my endeavor to put into practice Frankl’s words to turn suffering (and loss) into a new and better human achievement and accomplishment.
(this article also appears on https://bobhutchins.substack.com/p/collective-grief-the-way-things-used and https://bobhutchins.substack.com/p/collective-grief-the-way-things-used )