In the current state of our world, we are reminded that life is in constant change. With change often comes feelings of loss and with loss often comes grief. Although grief is commonly associated with the loss of a loved one through death, grief is also experienced during other times. Grief can result from loss experienced by the termination of a job or retirement, divorce, loss of a friendship/relationship, loss of an envisioned future due to illness, catastrophic world events, the feeling of loss of identity after the birth of a first child, loss experienced when children leave home and no longer recognizing a parent or grandparent with dementia.
This type of grief is called ambiguous loss and was coined by Dr. Pauline Boss. “Ambiguous loss describes the loss felt when you are grieving someone who is still living. It differs from the grief experienced when someone you love dies. In that case, the loss is finite and certain. Ambiguous loss happens when something or someone profoundly changes or disappears. A person feels torn between hoping things will return to normal and the looming sense that life as they knew it is fading away.” (2)
Often times ambiguous loss can feel especially challenging because it is met with complex feelings of confusion and lack of closure as the loss is ongoing. As a result, you may notice disturbed sleep, fatigue, lack of appetite, brain fog, poor memory, mood fluctuations, feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. Additionally, you may be having a difficult time recognizing that you are grieving because you may be associating grief with death. Being able to identify your experience as a loss will help you to be gentle with yourself. In doing so, you can allow yourself to feel the emotions that surface- it’s normal and okay to feel the way you do! Whether it be hurt, sadness, anger, shame, guilt, abandonment, hate or hopelessness, giving yourself time to move through the stages of grief will allow healing to occur.
Coping with Ambiguous Loss
- Join a Support Group
Finding others who have experienced something similar to you can help you feel that you are not alone.
- Find a Therapist
Talking to a trained mental-health professional with ambiguous grief experience is crucial to building resilience, key to living with loss.
- Celebrate what Remains
Although you are grieving what and who has been lost, looking for the silver-lining in the situation can help to have insight into what has been gained. It is certainly easy to let the end justify the means; however, I urge you to look at what the journey has given.
- Discover New Hope
Finding something new to strive towards can help you find excitement and hope amidst the uncertainty. Whether it be a new job, relationship or hobby, something new can create hope for the future.
Grieving is painful, emotional and exhausting! Allow yourself time to process your loss and when the time comes where you are less vulnerable, I hope that you can see the time you had before the loss as one that was good. That you enjoyed many positive experiences from what and who you are grieving, and that this insight leads to a newfound hope for your future.
“In the end you can’t always choose what to keep. You can only choose how you let it go.” ~ Ally Condie, Matched