Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief

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Harvard University Press, Jun 30, 2009 - Psychology - 176 pages
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When a loved one dies we mourn our loss. We take comfort in the rituals that mark the passing, and we turn to those around us for support. But what happens when there is no closure, when a family member or a friend who may be still alive is lost to us nonetheless? How, for example, does the mother whose soldier son is missing in action, or the family of an Alzheimer's patient who is suffering from severe dementia, deal with the uncertainty surrounding this kind of loss?

In this sensitive and lucid account, Pauline Boss explains that, all too often, those confronted with such ambiguous loss fluctuate between hope and hopelessness. Suffered too long, these emotions can deaden feeling and make it impossible for people to move on with their lives. Yet the central message of this book is that they can move on. Drawing on her research and clinical experience, Boss suggests strategies that can cushion the pain and help families come to terms with their grief. Her work features the heartening narratives of those who cope with ambiguous loss and manage to leave their sadness behind, including those who have lost family members to divorce, immigration, adoption, chronic mental illness, and brain injury. With its message of hope, this eloquent book offers guidance and understanding to those struggling to regain their lives.

Table of Contents:

1. Frozen Grief
2. Leaving without Goodbye
3. Goodbye without Leaving
4. Mixed Emotions
5. Ups and Downs
6. The Family Gamble
7. The Turning Point
8. Making Sense out of Ambiguity
9. The Benefit of a Doubt


Reviews of this book:
You will find yourself thinking about the issues discussed in this book long after you put it down and perhaps wishing you had extra copies for friends and family members who might benefit from knowing that their sorrows are not unique...This book's value lies in its giving a name to a force many of us will confront--sadly, more than once--and providing personal stories based on 20 years of interviews and research.
--Pamela Gerhardt, Washington Post

Reviews of this book:
A compassionate exploration of the effects of ambiguous loss and how those experiencing it handle this most devastating of losses ... Boss's approach is to encourage families to talk together, to reach a consensus about how to mourn that which has been lost and how to celebrate that which remains. Her simple stories of families doing just that contain lessons for all. Insightful, practical, and refreshingly free of psychobabble.
--Kirkus Review

Reviews of this book:
Engagingly written and richly rewarding, this title presents what Boss has learned from many years of treating individuals and families suffering from uncertain or incomplete loss...The obvious depth of the author's understanding of sufferers of ambiguous loss and the facility with which she communicates that understanding make this a book to be recommended.
--R. R. Cornellius, Choice

Reviews of this book:
Written for a wide readership, the concepts of ambiguous loss take immediate form through the many provocative examples and stories Boss includes, All readers will find stories with which they will relate...Sensitive, grounded and practical, this book should, in my estimation, be required reading for family practitioners.
--Ted Bowman, Family Forum

Reviews of this book:
Dr. Boss describes [the] all-too-common phenomenon [of unresolved grief] as resulting from either of two circumstances: when the lost person is still physically present but emotionally absent or when the lost person is physically absent but still emotionally present. In addition to senility, physical presence but psychological absence may result, for example, when a person is suffering from a serious mental disorder like schizophrenia or depression or debilitating neurological damage from an accident or severe stroke, when a person abuses drugs or alcohol, when a child is autistic or when a spouse is a workaholic who is not really 'there' even when he or she is at home...Cases of physical absence with continuing psychological presence typically occur when a soldier is missing in action, when a child disappears and is not found, when a former lover or spouse is still very much missed, when a child 'loses' a parent to divorce or when people are separated from their loved ones by immigration...Professionals familiar with Dr. Boss's work emphasised that people suffering from ambiguous loss were not mentally ill, but were just stuck and needed help getting past the barrier or unresolved grief so that they could get on with their lives.
--Asian Age

Combining her talents as a compassionate family therapist and a creative researcher, Pauline Boss eloquently shows the many and complex ways that people can cope with the inevitable losses in contemporary family life. A wise book, and certain to become a classic.
--Constance R. Ahrons, author of The Good Divorce

A powerful and healing book. Families experiencing ambiguous loss will find strategies for seeing what aspects of their loved ones remain, and for understanding and grieving what they have lost. Pauline Boss offers us both insight and clarity.
--Kathy Weingarten, Ph.D, The Family Institute of Cambridge, Harvard Medical School

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1 Frozen Grief
2 Leaving without Goodbye
3 Goodbye without Leaving
4 Mixed Emotions
5 Ups and Downs
6 The Family Gamble
7 The Turning Point
8 Making Sense out of Ambiguity
9 The Benefit of a Doubt

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Page 146 - Discrimination and the American Creed," in RK Merton, Sociological Ambivalence and Other Essays (New York: The Free Press. 1976), pp. 189-216. In...
Page 149 - An in-depth interview with the parents of missing children. In: J. Gilgun, K. Daly & G. Handel (Eds), Qualitative Methods in Family Research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

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About the author (2009)

She received her Ph.D. in Child Development and Family Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she subsequently taught for many years. In 1981, she joined the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, where she is now Professor and Clinical Supervisor in the doctoral training program in marriage and family therapy. She was appointed Visiting Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, 1995-96. Dr. Boss is a past-president of the National Council on Family Relations and is a past-president of the Groves conference on Marriage and the Family.

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