Ambiguous Loss, Uncertain Grief

Among the many varieties of grief, I come
across ambiguous loss, also sometimes known

as uncertain grief: hanging about in a doorway,
unsure of whether to come in or stay outside,

just on the porch. When I ask what he
wants, he says I'm not sure or I don't

really know. So tell me the news
you've brought, I say. And he clears

his throat half a dozen times
and tries to begin, but can't seem

to form the words. In the half-light
he looks like a child who might have lost

his way but is too embarrassed or scared
to admit it. Then he turns, and he looks

much older— a five o'clock shadow
on his chin and around his mouth.

He reminds me of the cousin who came
knocking one night, crazed with the grief

of not knowing if any of his family
had made it out of their house in a land-

slide, after an earthquake. In such
a situation, it's natural to think

of the very worst possible thing that could
happen. And even if it proves not to be true,

the terrible swing from one moment's hope
to the next moment's stomach-churning panic

is the only thing that registers. Tell me,
I say again; I'd rather know. Wouldn't you

prefer the clarity of such a loss, such a grief,
rather than being kept in the limbo preceding it?



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