Ambiguous Loss and the Family Grieving Process

Ambiguous losses are physical or psychological experiences of families that are not as concrete or identifiable as traditional losses such as death. Ambiguous loss could include anything from miscarriage to losing one’s spouse to Alzheimer’s disease while he or she is still living. Ambiguous loss may include not knowing whether or not a loved one is living or dead, such as cases of child abduction or military personnel who are missing in action. Ambiguous loss is inherently characterized by lack of closure or clear understanding. This article defines types of ambiguous losses and details some of their characteristics. A model for counseling families who are experiencing ambiguous loss is described. Specifically, the model combines family stress theory with narra- tive therapy techniques to help families define their losses, assess their resources, and develop meaningful narratives about the loss.

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