Inspiration: After watching the new Christmas Carol (2022) on Netflix, (highly recommend for Christmas Carol fans) Becky (wife and sometimes site admin) stated “Hey this would be a good blog dealy for you, y’know the three ghosts and grief and stuff.”
Setup: Grief is our emotional, sensational, and cognitive reaction to loss. The most recognized part of grief is our reaction to something that happened in our past… about something or someone we no longer have. However, the other important parts of grief are just as important to spotlight. We encounter grief in relating to our past losses while being in the present moment, and how we anticipate and feel future potential losses. These parts or “ghosts” are not as clear cut entities as they appear in the Christmas Carol, but for the sake of this process we are going to try to differentiate.
The Ghost of Loss Past:
When this ghost visits it shows us our life when that chair wasn’t empty, when we hadn’t been terminated from that job we loved so much, or that time period before losing our innocence. This is a soft spoken nostalgic ghost who has us returning to pain, and illuminates what is important to us in our lives. If we are unable to be with these losses in flexible ways it sometimes feels like we are living in the land of the dead. We are living in our past relationships..our past lives. We are feeling stuck in these losses and hurt. When this happens we can feel a yearning, or resentment that keeps us stuck and immobilized. In the original tale, this is where Scrooge is stuck. He didn’t need the ghost to show him his past…he was living his past. What the ghost actually did for him was allow him to view these experiences without completely being consumed. It allowed him to see the fuller experience of grief, which is not just pain, but also warmth, laughter, and the recognition of choices made. While that recognition is particularly painful, it is also where mobilization lives. We can feel the sting of regret, and also access the agency in choices that we want to hold ourselves accountable to in the now and future…thus comes the other ghosts.
Wisdom to take: A re-examination of who we are (in relation to that loss). A re-affirmation of who we want to be, and how we want to act based on our important losses/values.
Ghost of Loss Present:
When the Ghost of Loss Present visits it points us to what is right in front of us. It is a ghost that begs us to “know our grief better, man.” This is the ghost that catches us right in those moments, and knocks the wind out of us. These might be moments when time might slow down a little bit while doing something because we get hit with a sensation that illuminates the empty chair in the room, where we wish that missed person was sharing this very moment with us, or maybe we even feel like we can hear what that person would be saying in that moment.
This ghost can certainly take up a lot of space in the room when it visits. Sometimes this ghost also feels inviting. We might seek it out in a way because it brings us closer to feeling that connection to what we lost. If we don’t have access to connecting with this ghost, we might feel a sense of complete disconnection to those important people or events in our lives. When we are feeling disconnected, it is not because we are still needing to wait for the Ghost of Loss Present to visit us, rather this experience is often a denial or avoidance of the ghost taking up space in our room when it is already present.
So..being with this present ghost is a good thing, right? We want to be in the present because that is where grounding and intentional action comes in, right? When it comes to mindfulness and value based action, yes, certainly this is important. But all of these ghosts have an important part to play. Present gives us an opportunity to also illuminate a little more of the stage of life and look to how our losses may be shared in community with others. In order to do this we need to get to that psychological flexibility point of not feeling fully enveloped in Present’s large body. We need to be able to be with all of our ghosts.
Wisdom to take: Being with the pain/loss, in the frozen moments in the now, allows for important pockets and opportunities to seize intimacy and community if we can hold it with soft hands.
Ghost of Loss Future:
The Ghost of Loss future is a silent contemplative ghost who often follows quickly after one, or both, of the other ghosts have visited us. It is the ghost of anticipatory grief. It shows us the losses that we project out as we grieve the losses already in front of us. This isn’t just a projection fueled out of anxiety, but a certainty. A silent knowing that nothing gold can stay. If this visitation is just left in a space of hopeless rigidity, we will reject this ghost completely. In this rejection we disconnect from ourselves and from hope. I imagine this as a building of those chains that Marley wore in the Christmas Carol. Those chains are not just forged from immoral deeds done, but from the disconnect of not being able to be with one’s own pain and humanity as we unintentionally drive into the future. A locking away of one’s self. Of course, not being able to access our own pain and humanity makes it easier to dehumanize others..thus making this more of a Marley chained status.
Wisdom to take: Allowing ourselves to project out and see future losses is something that allows us to further formulate how we prioritize our values in the now. What is important about the high stakes of what we may lose? Rather than focusing on preventing/undoing these things, what would happen if we were able to fully live for these things now? What would that look like? What do we want to stand for?
In reality…all of these Ghosts visit within the same time/space. They can feel interchangeable, and are quite the messy crew. What is important about naming these griefs is how they direct us along the timeline of past, present, and future. There is nothing wrong with being pulled in these spaces, and there is much to learn in each. The main issue is when we find ourselves locked away in any of these spaces too long, or if we find ourselves pushing away from them altogether. So if we were to break down your grief(s) into these ghosts…how might that allow you to better conceptualize your processing? Maybe this could help? Also found in my free resources page!