Ambiguous Loss—The Practical Side

“Ambiguous loss happens when you are grieving someone who is still living. It’s different than the grief you experience when someone you love dies. That kind of loss is finite and certain and there’s no question you should feel pain. Ambiguous loss happens when something or someone profoundly changes or disappears” (www.whatsyourgrief.com ). Some examples of ambiguous loss include: divorce, incarceration, prisoners or hostages of war, substance abuse/addiction and those struggling with mental illness.

Thinking of loss may conjure up things associated with death. Things such as funerals, cemeteries and the scattering of ashes. The truth is, loss is so much more complicated than death. There are many types of loss besides death, including anticipatory and disenfranchised loss to name a couple.

Ambiguous loss is complicated because you are grieving someone who is not yet dead. The person may be incarcerated and you cannot visit them, or addicted to drugs and acting like someone other than themselves. Your person may have dementia and you miss the person you knew them to be before they got sick. Or, your person may have run away or disappeared.

In all of these instances, you are grieving a person who is still alive but vastly different or unreachable than the person you once knew. Ambiguous grief is still grief. As such, you may experience the emotions associated with grieving. You may feel angry, depressed or in shock. You may be trying to make meaning of life now that the person you know is not the same. All of these are normal emotions to experience with ambiguous loss.

One of the most common examples of ambiguous loss that people experience is divorce. When we get divorced, we grieve the marriage and we grieve the person we knew in our marriage. While the person we divorce may not change very much, who they were and who we were when we were together forever changes. That relationship and dynamic must be grieved, just as the person we divorced must be grieved. Though we may see our ex-spouses on a regular basis for things like our children’s birthdays and school events, the person we knew is no longer the same.

If you are experiencing ambiguous loss, we can help. Our trained and seasoned licensed mental health clinicians can provide the support and empathy you need to process your emotions and heal. We offer a safe and non-judgmental space where you can discover who you want to be now that the person you are grieving looks different in your life. If you need help with loss or any other emotional issue, we can help. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment. Check back next month for part 2 of this blog: Ambiguous Loss—The Personal Side.


Yolanda Brailey