Ambiguous Loss is a loss that is not very clear. It is unseen, or not accepted as valid.
Each of us has experienced this at one time or another, to one degree or another. It is a loss that is not recognized by others, or downplayed as not a big enough deal to cause the level of grief we are experiencing. We do not get validation or comfort.
Or on the other hand the event is so horrible and tragic that the people who would normally be our support network draw away due to discomfort of not knowing how to help.
What are some examples?
The loss of a pet. Some will say “It is only an animal.” While it may be “only an animal” it is a legitimate grief when we lose one.
The losing of a person to Alzheimer’s or mental health problems. People have said to me “At least you still have your father.” But what they don’t understand was that while I still had him in body I did not have his mind or personality, the part that made him “him” was gone. I was grieving the loss of my dad before my father actually succumbed to the disease.
I also know the loss of a spouse, before losing him to death. I lost my first husband to mental illness years before he died. It is a terrible grief to have them leave home – not knowing if and when they might come home again. And even harder to try to explain to a 3 year old that you don’t know “when Daddy’s coming home” (the question it seemed like she constantly asked). (You can read that story through this link A Young Widow)
You can feel this kind of pain because of infertility, perinatal death, termination of pregnancy, birth mothers who give babies up for adoption. Or perhaps you experience a death by suicide or murder.
Another way of losing someone is when their brain does not work right anymore. It could be because of a stroke or some other traumatic brain injury. Janet Cromer talks about this issue very well in this blog.
One of the difficulties with ambiguous loss is that it often lacks closure. Your person with Alzheimer’s is still living, in body though not in mind (my Dad in picture on left) or as in infertility – for a time – you keep hoping.
Maybe you will find this slightly helpful. Like Paul in the New Testament who had to learn to accept his “thorn in the flesh” and the pain it brought, often this is an area that we must depend on God fully for we will find rest in no other place. He must be our strength!
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