Thoughts on Ambiguous Loss(es)

“Scientific discoveries happen not through method or magic, but from being open to discovery by listening to one’s emotions and responding to intuition. Like a poet, the researcher, as well as the therapist, needs the ability to imagine what the truth might be. Each tests it, but in a different way. The poet words a couplet, the therapist tries a strategy, and the researcher tests hypotheses. A theorist, however, must be aware of all three.” ~Pauline Boss

Hiraeth (noun) A homesickness for somewhere you cannot return to, the nostalgia and the grief for the lost places of your past, places that never were. from Lost in Translation

These two quotes have brought me to this post, and my thoughts still swirl.

I still have much to read, weigh, and consider, but I can’t let go of this thread. Of whether I can weave these thoughts together. Of whether I am seeing something new or if this is an old idea in a new context. Either way, I am rounding the corner of one year of thinking about this pandemic, and I am not ready to make any declarations of what life will be like or what I will do differently in the future. A very dear friend of mine said a beautiful phrase: “When Covid fucks off, let’s…” and it is wonderful to think about. Let us go you and I, when then evening is spread across the sky and Covid fucks off.

Or another: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, when Covid fucks off, I fear no evil.

Or another: What will you do with your one wild and precious life, when Covid fucks off?

Or another: I’m with you in Rockland/ in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the highway across America in tears to the door of my cottage in the Western night when Covid fucks off.

Though I may be willing to butcher prayers and poetry with this phrase, I’m not even willing to make plans (beyond my job) because I cannot stand the idea of feeling more disappointment. My single focus right now is to be with what I have. Stay healthy, not contribute to the spreading of this disease, and try to ride out the horrific grief of losing the one thing I’ve loved the most. Grief has been my research question, and I’ve been spending a great deal of time trying to understand it.

When Covid fucks off, it will still be with me.

I’m trying to understand two things really. Grief, and why I feel more drawn to creating things than to writing. To put some things in context, I write all day. When I’m not talking to the laptop, I’m writing. I spend a fair amount of time with words. Documenting, correcting, fixing, planning, outlining, revising, answering, remixing, responding, organizing, drafting, publishing, saving, suggesting.

At night, when I clock out, I have not felt like writing since my dog’s brain slowly shut down and I greeted this new life without him. What I am drawn to is watercolor painting, a bit of drawing, some cross-stitch, a wee collage, and knitting. And reading books. Always books.

I haven’t really shared anything that I’ve created because I’ve watched others do this, and the first thing people usually say is, “You could sell that.” Or they bring up the horrid phrase “side hustle.” Or they tell you story about a beginner they know turned full-time artist. Maybe they mean it as a compliment, I’m not sure. And let’s be clear. Nothing I am making is anything anyone would want to buy, and I’m really okay with that. Is it art? Is it craft? Is it handiwork? I’m just not sure I care to name it.

For some reason, I am okay with not being a very good artist, crafty person, or whatever but it bothers the fuck out of me that I have not finished a book at this point in my life. It’s odd.


Writing has been a daily practice for as long as I can remember, so when I read that journaling helps you process grief, well, it has not held the magic solution for me like it does others.

Making things? Small paintings of birds? Sketches of my coffee cup? This helps.

I have nights painting where I am like, “Holyhell, where has this been my whole life?” Other nights I feel like a kid with fat crayons who can’t seem to pull anything together. I go from feeling like I am improving to just making a mess. Wasting paper and pigment. The time I spend at our downstairs table, however, moves by so quickly. It’s astonishing to me how painting kills my internal clock. I know what 20 minutes and 50 minutes feels like with everything else thanks to the years teaching. Try getting students to do something for more than 20 minutes, and you’re doomed. Fifty minutes marks the end of a Carnegie clock hour. Time, in this time of pandemic living, makes very little sense.

Here are some things I feel I understand today.

I have found that I love the language of watercolor. Here are a few phrases I think are accidental poetry.

When you mix water into the pigment, you “wake up the color.”

When you get hard lines because of too much water or paint, you can “take the belly of your brush and you smooth it out.”

When the pigment to liquid is unbalanced, you get “a bloom in your painting.”


When you have the three primary colors, you “create any color that you see.”

What about the colors I don’t see, and how do I not spend every hour of my day imagining them?

While I paint, I listen to podcasts or I watch videos or short tutorials. I’ve been really loving the unedited versions of On Being lately, and it is there, that I relearned the phrase “ambiguous loss” from Pauline Boss (quoted above). She spoke of our current moment–the pandemic, global economic meltdown, all the horrors of America–and I found this phrase quite comforting.

It explains so much. It’s a bit where I am with a lot of things right now, and I didn’t have a word for it, or a phrase. I was at a loss of how to describe this feeling and here it is. Here we are.

This week I’ll read more, think more, paint more, and maybe the words will come together. Like pigment to water to paper.

Until then. This:

Let yourself be silently drawn/ by the strange pull of what you really love./ It will not lead you astray. ~Rumi

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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