Different Ways to Grieve

Ambiguous Loss
Secondary Losses

Ambiguous Loss

Are you feeling …

  • Like you have lost a sense of comfort or familiarity with your loved one, as if things have changed and will never again be the same, such as when a person develops Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, or other illnesses?
  • Like there is a sense of not knowing what is making you feel stuck and keeping you from grieving a loss, such as when a loved one’s body is never found or a person goes missing?
  • Like there is a clear loss that has occurred, but that you do not know how to grieve or why you are feeling frozen or paralyzed, such as in the case of aging family members, infertility, or when a child goes away to college?
  • Like your relationship(s) will be changed forever, such as in the case of divorce or when a relationship ends?

If so, you could be experiencing an ambiguous loss. An ambiguous loss is when a loss occurs in our lives, but there is something making us feel stuck or unable to move forward in the grieving process. It can occur when a person is physically present but psychologically not there or when a person is physically gone, but they remain present in our minds and hearts because we cannot be sure that there has been a death. Ambiguous loss can make us feel as though we will never have answers, there will always be something missing, and/or our lives and relationship with a loved one will be changed forever.

What can you do?

  • Seek out support from others. Surrounding yourself with people who care about you and who understand what you are going through can help validate your feelings.
  • Look for support groups that address the type of loss you are experiencing.
  • Allow yourself to take time to feel and express whatever emotions come up for you. Ignoring your feelings can prolong your feeling of being stuck.
  • Try to create a structure in aspects of your life that you can control, such as dinner and bedtime at the same time they usually occur, regular exercise, and family meetings as necessary.
  • Continue to strive to find meaning in your life that includes and acknowledges the loss you are experiencing.
  • Seek professional help if you find that the loss controlling your thoughts and behaviors and/or causing marked distress for an extended period of time.