Short excerpts on “ambiguous loss” from article about Pauline Boss

This is an article about Pauline Boss, the originator of the term “ambiguous loss.”  “Ambiguous loss” is a loss without a conclusion.  Or, “an unclear loss that can be physical or psychological and it has no resolution.”

The author of this article describes ambiguous loss as an “experience of paradox — a simultaneous absence and presence.”  She asks:  “Can you mourn someone whose body is present, even if the mind isn’t? …  Can you grieve a foreclosed future?”

The article is too long for most of you and NOT focused on caregiving.  But I’ll share two short excerpts that apply to caregivers:

“Boss found that ambiguous loss can result in what she termed ‘frozen grief,’ when people are stuck in their sorrow; or ‘disenfranchised grief,’ a term coined by the mental-health counselor Kenneth J. Doka to describe when others do not see a significant loss as legitimate or deserving of support.”

“Rejecting linear models, Boss offers six nonsequential guidelines meant to help people bear their grief: making meaning out of loss; relinquishing one’s desire to control an uncontrollable situation; recreating identity after loss; becoming accustomed to ambivalent feelings; redefining one’s relationship with whatever or whomever they’ve lost; and finding new hope. Two of the guidelines, ‘meaning’ and ‘new hope,’ are especially important for coping, intended to help people consider what the loss signifies in their lives and how they can imagine a future that contains their loss.”

Probably that’s enough for most of you.  Most of the article focuses on applying “ambiguous loss” to the pandemic, etc.  Copied below is a link to the article (which you can listen to — takes 32 minutes).


What if There’s No Such Thing as Closure?

Many of us are taught that if we work hard enough we’ll be able to get over our losses. The social scientist Pauline Boss sees it differently.

By Meg Bernhard
December 15, 2021
New York Times