Friday 10 June 2016

For Carers Week - Ambiguous Loss

V. Press poet Alex Reed is a carer for his partner with M.S. To mark Carers Week 2016, he reflects on some of the complex emotions involved in caring for a loved one who is no longer the person they were because of long-term illness.

Ambiguous Loss

“…I dream
of a lover, dream of the lovers we were.”

(From ‘A clearing’, A Career in Accompaniment)

A book that created a big impression on me while I was writing the poems for A Career in Accompaniment was Ambiguous Loss by American family therapist Pauline Boss. ‘Ambiguous loss’ is the term given by Boss to situations where a loved one is physically present but emotionally or psychologically absent, such as when a person has Alzheimer’s or other severe cognitive difficulties, or when one person in a relationship is emotionally withdrawn from his or her partner. [1]

An uncertainty and lack of clarity inherent to situations of ambiguous loss can further complicate processes of grief. Many carers will experience this kind of complex grief reaction when taking care of a loved one who seems no longer to be the person they were because of illness.

“We are lost here, you ad I,
fallen between lexicons,

car park and hospital,
hope and prognosis,

the body’s wish
and contours of grief.”

(From ‘Ghost’, A Career in Accompaniment)

Caring can be stressful in multiple ways – physically, economically, and so on. One of the things that the field of family therapy teaches us is that illness is traumatizing both for the person who is ill and those who are close to him or her - it is relationally traumatizing.

For many carers, the complex emotional process of ambiguous loss will inter-twine with multiple physical, vocational and economic pressures to further amplify the experience of stress.

Long-term illness evokes a sense of being haunted for the carer, and also, I imagine, for the person who is ill. We are haunted by what’s lost, and also by what might have been – the trips away, holidays, walks, particular kinds of physical intimacy… At the risk of unbearable pretentiousness, I would say it brings to mind Derrida’s evocative term ‘hauntology’ - a condition of being haunted by that which never happened.

These different musings motivated me to write the poem ‘Ghost’ directly about this about this kind of experience:

“There is a name for it,
this absence, this expanse,
this frozen place. They call it
Ambiguous loss…
…But I would
prefer to say that I am haunted
by the ghost of her motion,
the flow of her, as she walked
through our kitchen on any afternoon,
or how, pushing her hair back,
she leant across me,
the world lit in her eyes.”

(From ‘Ghost’, A Career in Accompaniment)

More information and a sample poem from A Career in Accompaniment can be found here.

The pamphlet, which is published by V. Press next month, can also be pre-ordered now using the PayPal link below. (A Career in Accompaniment is published on July 11, 2016. Pre-orders will be dispatched that week.)

A Career in Accompaniment with postage & packing

[1] Boss also uses the term to describe those situations where the person is physically absent but remains psychologically present because it is unknown what has become of them, such as the dreadful situation faced by the parents of Madeleine McCann.

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