I was not aware of the concept of frozen grief until I stumbled across an article by Marilyn Gardner of Communicating Across Boundaries. All of a sudden pieces of the puzzle started falling into place.
Yes, this is what is happening.
The Frozen Sadness of Ambiguous Loss explains how the grief process is arrested when we don’t even realize we need to grieve.
Ambiguous loss is a psychological term meant to apply to those losing loved ones to Alzheimer’s or those with an absent father who might reappear at any time.
Marilyn makes the point, and I wholeheartedly agree, that this is what Third Culture Kids deal with. The very fact that the losses are not recognized and acknowledged causes the grief process to be frozen.
The ambiguous loss is an important piece to the puzzle.
It’s hard to put a finger on what is lost when a TCK (or any global nomad) moves from one life to another.
I think loss of identity is one of the key factors.
Maybe being a white face surrounded by dark ones. Maybe the status that comes with having more or knowing more than the people in your circles. Maybe the respect that comes with a certain level of achievement. Maybe the loss of a position or job that defines us.
Of course, there’s the loss of good friendships and the positive memories. That’s something that needs to be grieved. How do you memorialize that? How do you thank people for what they’ve done for you?
That doesn’t take into account the food. And the rituals and the traditions which were meaningful but are not supported by a new culture.
It’s all very ambiguous.
Just having a name for it validates me. Lets me know I’m not alone. Isn’t that what community is all about? Knowing that we’re not alone?
I remember the first time I read about phone phobia in The Introvert Advantage. It was so exciting to discover that other introverts felt the same way I did about phone calls. I wasn’t defective. I was part of a group. My tendency had a name. Other people were like me.
I wasn’t alone.
The frozen grief of ambiguous loss isn’t a cheery subject. Maybe even a little disheartening. But, a successful cure is more likely after a good diagnosis.
The fact that it has a name is encouraging.
It means I am not alone.
And it means you are not alone.