Dying & Death Talk

Looking at dying and death for what it is: a part of life.


Ambiguous Loss

How to Cope with Anticipatory Grief and Ambiguous Loss

Courtesy of | By Cynthia Orange | Photo Credit: Adobe Stock | Originally Published 09.14.2017 | Posted 11.27.2018

The longer we live and the more we experience, the more we find ourselves in the cracks between joy and contentment on one side of life’s continuum and grief and loss on the other. Children leave our nests, we move from vocations to avocations — from retirement to, as a dear friend puts it, “re-aspirement.” Addresses, relationships, bodies, even spouses, can change. More loved ones get more serious diagnoses. Sometimes we get dreaded medical test results ourselves.

When someone dies, the loss seems clear. But what about those times when grief is anticipatory — when the diagnosis is terminal and we grieve the inevitable? Or times when the loss is ambiguous? Perhaps a parent shows signs of dementia, a son or daughter in the military is missing in action or returns from combat with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or a dear friend has a serious stroke. Maybe a loved one is in the throes of addiction. What was has changed, replaced by uncertainty. Continue reading “How to Cope with Anticipatory Grief and Ambiguous Loss”

4 Questions About Ambiguous Loss by Pauline Boss, Ph.D.

Courtesy of Ambiguous Loss | By Pauline Boss, Ph.D.

1) How does it differ from ordinary loss?
Ambiguous loss differs from ordinary loss in that there is no verification of death or no certainty that the person will come back or return to the way they used to be.

2) Why does it matter?
Ambiguous loss freezes the grief process and prevents closure, paralyzing couple and family functioning.  For more information, please refer to Pauline’s books, “Ambiguous Loss” and her most recent book, “Loss, Trauma, and Resilience”.

3) How does one ease its effects?
The six guidelines for resiliency while having to live with ambiguous loss are detailed in,”Loss, Trauma, and Resilience”.  As described in Dr. Boss’s cyclical model, they are:  Finding Meaning, Tempering Mastery, Reconstructing Identity, Normalizing Ambivalence, Revising Attachment and Discovering Hope

4) What are the types of ambiguous loss?
There are two types of ambiguous loss situations.

Type One occurs when there is physical absence and psychological presence.  These include situations when a loved one is physically missing or bodily gone.  Catastrophic examples of such ambiguous losses include kidnapping and missing bodies in the context of war, terrorism ethnic cleansing, genocide, or natural disasters such as earthquake, flood, and tsunami.  More common examples of this type of ambiguous loss are situations of absent parents due to divorce, giving up a baby to adoption, and physical contact with parents and siblings due to immigration.
In Type Two, there is physical presence and psychological absence.  In this type of ambiguous loss, the person you care about is psychologically absent– that is, emotionally or cognitively missing.  Such ambiguous loss can occur from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias; traumatic brain injury; AIDS, autism, depression, addiction, or other chronic mental or physical illnesses that take a loved one’s mind or memory away.
For more information on both types of ambiguous loss– and their overlap– see “Introduction” in my latest book, Loss, Trauma, and Resilience, Norton, 2006.

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