Ambiguous Loss

green tinted photograph of a woman in a dress sitting at a chair slumped over a table.

My counselor recommended that I read Ambiguous Loss because she saw themes of unresolved anxiety and sorrow from my aunt’s terminal cancer and my father’s declining physical health. I didn’t get around to reading the book until after my aunt had already died, but the author, Pauline Boss, covers grieving the inevitable loss of a loved one from cancer, so maybe it would have been helpful.

I don’t know how I’m supposed to help myself with self-help books. I’m not sure what they do.

To experience an ambiguous loss is to have a person who is both there and not. My aunt was alive, but I knew she soon wouldn’t be. My father is definitely still alive, but his degenerative back and joint problems, severe pain, and slow organ failure cause him to not be as present and involved as he used to be. He is still there, but something is gone.

I have a name for what I’m experiencing. Is it enough to have words for something? The words “ambiguous loss” are a tool I can use to explain what I am feeling to others. I bought a copy for my mother, so she and I can now use that term to communicate with each other. But naming a loss doesn’t replace what is gone.

I believe this is Boss’s goal: to legitimize the grief from ambiguous loss to mental health practitioners like her. I’m not a practitioner, but someone in need of guidance by one; I’m still not sure how to help myself.