Grief Comes in More than One Flavor
On Cherry Coke, Ambiguous Grief and the Permission to Self-Diagnose
It was 1985. One year after I was born, the world as we knew it would change forever.
After several years of intense research and development, as well as early consumer testing at the 1982 World’s Fair, the Coca Cola company decided to launch a new flavor.
Cherry Coke. (Still my favorite Coke to this day)
Less than 3 months after its debut, it had a 91% consumer awareness. EVERYBODY knew about it and almost EVERYONE that knew about it resonated with it. It was as if there had been a secret meeting to stockpile it once it dropped. For the first time, Coke was being offered in more than one flavor. And it resonated with the masses in a way that has been unparalleled among similar product launches.
It was nothing short of amazing.
I get similar responses anytime I introduce a concept from one of the most important books I’ve ever read on Grief—The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in Times of Pandemic and Change by Pauline Boss. In the 1970’s she coined a term that’s essentially the Cherry Coke of Grief.
Ambiguous Loss. Basically, grief comes in more than one flavor.
Grief comes in more than one flavor: Tangible & Ambiguous
There’s at least two kinds of grief: tangible and ambiguous. Here’s the difference.
When most of us think grief, we think of a tangible loss. The order of events go a little something like this.
I lost somebody. My loved one died.
My loved one gets buried—dropped into the ground.
Tears begin to drop from my face.
People can tangibly see the reason I’m crying. They connect my falling tears to my fallen loved ones.
I’m (usually) surrounded (at least for a time) with tangible hugs, handshakes, casseroles and phone calls.
The result: While this grief is incredibly heavy, there are usually willing people surrounding the griever to help them carry the load (at least for a time). There’s tangible support and comfort offered (in the best of cases). I’m surrounded and supported.
Ambiguous grief is different. It’s not as tangible, clear and certain. Matter of fact, it’s anything but tangible, clear and certain. It’s a grief with no definite boundary or closure. Deaths with no funerals or caskets.
The death of a dream.
The death of a friendship - people physically present but emotionally absent.
The death of a relationship.
Chronic sickness. A kidnapping. Family deployed to the military. And the list goes and on and on.
The result: While this grief can be just as heavy, it’s a grief you have to deal with alone because people who surround you don’t quite get it. ESPECIALLY, if they’ve dealt with a traumatic tangible loss of their own. They may spend their time comparing their grief to yours. Or worse, they keep hitting you with Cease & Desist orders on your use of the word grief.
If grief is a language, not a lot of people speak this dialect.
So when you get a divorce and have to miss out on milestones with your kids because they’re spending the weekend with your unfaithful ex…your body goes through the same things physiologically as those who’ve lost things tangibly. But, so often the people surrounding you don’t get it—and you may not feel the permission to use the word grief.
Well I’ve good good news for you.
Grief comes in more than one flavor. And no one owns the patent.
Everything Can Change, Even though Nothing Has
Sometimes being able to name your feelings can change everything. It’s like getting a prescription for an illness that no one’s been able to identify. The prescription paper doesn’t actually change anything. But it changes EVERYTHING.
That piece of paper between your fingers is you tangibly holding on to hope.
I hope if you’re wrestling with ambiguous grief today, you at least know you’re not alone. If the hugs, handshakes, and casseroles don’t come—I’m sending this little note to remind you you’re not crazy.
You’re not alone.
Day 6 of 30 Days of Hope
If you’re at all interested in living at the intersection of Grief & Hope, I can't recommend this book enough.
(And if you've read it, do you agree? What other book would you recommend for beginners?)
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