It is just as it sounds – vague and confusing. Ambiguous loss is one that occurs without closure or understanding. It leaves a person feeling upset and searching for answers. It is a difficult kind of loss, because more often than not one’s feelings of angst are invalidated either by family, friends or community. For this reason it is left unaddressed, consequently hampering the grieving process.
According to Pauline Boss in her book Loss, Trauma and Resilience, there are two types of ambiguous loss. The first is where there is both physical and psychological absence. For example when parents get divorced or separated and one of them leaves the family home, children are often left feeling uncertain and insecure. Another example is a sibling becoming estranged with either of the parents. One is left feeling a sorrowful grief whose root cause remains tenuous.
Even worse, with the passage of time, everyone gets on with their lives, oblivious to your pain.
This vague sense of brokenness and the distress that comes with instability in the home is ambiguous loss.
The second type of ambiguous loss is where there is physical presence but psychological absence. This may happen when a loved one loses their memory either in an accident or due to an illness such as Alzheimer’s disease. It could also happen in the case where a loved one withdraws due to depression or in the case of an alcoholic parent. The person ceases to be their familiar self and there is no certainty that they will recover.
Identifying ambiguous loss is half the recovery. Once this is done the afflicted can then begin acquiring coping skills and building resilience. It is also crucial to find a safe space to grieve and to only let in people who will understand and support you through the process. Regardless of the source of your pain, you deserve to grieve and heal free of shame. Stay hopeful.