Ambiguous Losses and Gains

Julia's Ambiguous Losses and Gains
Julia–Ambiguous Losses (and Gains)

During a family zoom call (a ritual many of you may be familiar with), Rebecca’s little sister Julia and her best-friend Katy voiced that even though there seemed to be “a light at the end of the tunnel” with COVID, there is a still a sense of disorientation as we slowly emerge from the last year and try to reckon with the changes we have undergone as a result of the pandemic. 

Katy observed that although many of us find ourselves grateful that we and our loves ones have been fortunate enough to survive the last year and, for some of us, keep our jobs, or our homes, we are still struggling with “ambiguous losses”.  In other words, there are clear losses that we have all witnessed or experienced ourselves—losing people we love, learning about the passing of many people close to our friends, neighbors, and colleagues, loss of financially security—but there are other consequences that are less overt and more difficult to quantify.

We began to list some of these “ambiguous losses”:

  • Everyone’s work has changed, (even if it’s just working in a grocery store where you have to wear a mask all the time)
  • If you work at home you never “leave” work so there may be no clear break from work
  • Not being able to just “pop over” to run an errand but having to make appointments for so many things (DMV, bank, eyeglass store, florists, etc. )
  • Not being able to exercise the same way (having to wear masks running or bike riding, having to avoid people when we’re out).
  • Not being able to get away
  • Having to do everything online
  • Getting used to isolating and not always being motivated to reconnect.

Katy and Julia said that they needed a ritual to define those things that have been more subtly challenged and were harder to pin down.  They decided they would do a collage to that effect (independent of Rebecca suggesting it!)—to make it concrete and find a way to articulate these intangibles.

Julia cut up and covered words and phrases that reflected things that she had been trying to cultivate in her personal life that had taken a hit, like her confidence and her creative spirit  (her image is above). She also identified more universal setbacks, like the fact that sadly during “The Year of the Woman”, actually women had lost more jobs than men by significant numbers (represented by the “man’s world” phrase in the middle left of the image).

At the end, Julia noticed that some of the phrases such as “My way” and “Don’t stop asking for more” had remained intact.  She saw these as reminders of areas she needed to be sure that she fortified.  She also noticed that the images of the women in the collage were intact and seemed to be smiling, laughing, and strong.  Julia felt like the exercise did what was intended—helped to identify things that had been challenged but had also endured like her creative spirit.  She loved using the art process to channel her feelings about these “losses” because it is often so hard to express them in words.

Katy’s Ambiguous Gains and Losses

To close, we give you a link to our handout on Self-Care During COVID.

Positively, Rebecca and Gioia

Art Directive

Make a collage about the gains and losses that you have experienced because of the pandemic.  You might combine writing with art by making a list of some of these gains and losses before creating the collage if it helps you to get started.  Then see if, during this process, some of the more “ambiguous” losses or gains emerge.