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Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief
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Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  390 ratings  ·  60 reviews
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 pati ...more
Paperback, 155 pages
Published October 2nd 2000 by Harvard University Press (first published 1999)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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Mar 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
My family has been searching for my uncle who's been missing in Laos for 48 years. His plan was shot down during the Vietnam War. Although I've read several books about the war itself and the US's secret involvement in Laos, I've never seen anything that focuses on the family's ability to deal with the loss. The crash site has been excavated, but just recently we've learned the results have led to only more ambiguity. This book came at the right time as I'm struggling to offer what support I can ...more
Jun 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
Professor Boss underscores the importance of taking notice of and resolving "ambiguous" losses that accumulate over time and can affect our lives. Most people notice the big losses/changes: death, divorce, job loss, but do we notice the quieter losses such as a marriage (loss of singlehood), a new baby (loss of couplehood), graduations, retiring, aging, even seasonal changes? Ambiguous losses are both universal and individualistic. By attending to unresolved loss, we can more fully experience li ...more
Oct 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a great book about ambiguous loss--when you've lost the person, but they're still there (like with divorce, immigration, a missing child, or Alzheimer's disease). This book helped me understand the conflicting emotions involved, and the many different ways (both adaptive and maladaptive)that people deal with their grief. ...more
Edward Ferrari
Dec 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Came across this book in my search for work on 'immigration grief,' a topic on which I am doing some reading having recently immigrated. Although this short book is not specifically on immigration per se it does provide a good background and context for it. It's worth reading if you're remotely interested in the subject as the stories about different approaches to 'ambiguous loss' (varying from families of soldiers MIA, those coping with alzheimer's, and family members who are otherwise 'psychol ...more
Feb 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: grief, psychology
This is a well written book about 'ambiguous' losses people may not think typically consider: immigrants who left their family behind and may never see them again, people who have disappeared, those MIAs during war or hostages, people with long lingering illnesses like alzheimer's, families with mentally ill relatives. All these produce anxiety that can become severe and lead to post tramatic stress. Because there is no clear closure it causes confusion and freezes the grieving process. She sugg ...more
Greg Williams
Very heartfelt, well-researched book full of wisdom and experience surrounding the uncertainties of loss, and the many ways we automatically try to master what we cannot. Very compelling and thought-provoking read, full of stories and practical anecdotes to help promote understanding and compassion.
Aug 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me by a friend who lost her husband to Parkinson's and I'm so glad I took her up on it. After reading this book, it sort of just gave me permission to feels all the feels and be okay with that, as my husband lives with a rare degenerative brain disease called Multiple System Atrophy. I loved the optimistic light in which this author presents her work. Ambiguous loss is a complicated loss to deal with as some, like us, grieve for years and years while their loved one ...more
Feb 04, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a book about grieving losses that are indeterminate such as a family member who has Alzheimer's, or a child who is missing. There is not a clear end point, but plenty of grief. The author is a therapist with experience in the field. Some of the advice itself is ambiguous, but it is worth reading to help people sort things out. Often families take an everything or nothing approach which is a mistake. For instance, when Grandpa can't slice the Thanksgiving turkey like he used to, don't can ...more
3.5 ⭐ The book, over 20 yrs old feels a little outdated in some places and also theme wise mostly irrelevant to what I hoped to find. Nevertheless the book did touch me at times that is was relevant in a more indirect way. An ok book. Not great.
Mar 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Whew! It's not just me and it *isn't* my fault. I knew I was dealing with something far more complex than the traditional Kubler-Ross model of grief. Boss's work explains with perfect clarity what is it like to live with a family member who may be physically gone but psychologically present or psychologically gone but physically present. I appreciated the discussion on ways to live well with ambiguous loss and the recognition that the loss never goes away and the resulting grief isn't resolved. ...more
Feb 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cps-involvement
This is an excellent theoretical book that is written in a clear manner that overviews issues, explicitly and otherwise, that are common to adoption/foster care situations and, in general, address how these processes are very stressful and difficult. I think that every CPS worker and person who is going through CPS involvement should read this book! It helps give words to issues that are very emotional and, well, ambiguous.
Jun 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: caregivers of loved ones with ALZ/dementia, those who have sustained any unresolved loss
Recommended to Kathleen by: Dr. Jane T, ALZ Assn
This book, difficult to read only because one tends to read it when in the midst of sorrow and grief, helps delineate the difference between grief and mourning. It is especially helpful to me as a "dementia/ALZ wife/widow," where the man I married has died to me, but he is also present and alive in his illness.

It deals with my current situation, as well as losses without closure such as wartime, sudden death, and other losses, be them large or small.
Feb 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Erin by: practicum supervisor
Repetitive at times, but overall an excellent reminder of the importance of defining loss broadly and praticing accordingly.

-- general interpersonal approach
-- also emphasizes narrative, systems, and cross-cultural perspectives

I should add: grounded in historical psych theory, so not necessarily a "fresh" perspective, but well researched and accessible to the general population as well as clinicians
Apr 08, 2015 rated it liked it
This book is okay, but as it progressed, the author kept adding to what counts as "ambiguous loss." By the end of the book, pretty much every loss had an element of ambiguity (which certainly seems true), so the concept became too diffuse. If it refers to everything, it refers to nothing—that kind of thing. Still, as a book about dealing with loss and helping others deal with loss, it offers considerable insight. ...more
Jun 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
What a helpful, enlightening book! Boss introduces the concept of ambiguous loss and helps us understand how it's different from clear loss. This concept applies to so many of our losses in life - she concentrates on the loss experienced in chronic illness, but it's easily applicable to many other things. Her writing is beautiful and understandable. LOVED the book. Use it all the time. ...more
Alicia Eskew
Quick, easy read, but packed with insight. A KEEPER of a text or reference book! Written for therapy and treatment, this book could be placed directly in the hands of many who are struggling with 'frozen sadness'. A compassionate key book in understanding the the effects of the most common type of loss we experience. If you are in the Psych/Counseling/Human Services world: a Must Read! ...more
An excellent insightful overview of the experience of loss without closure. Boss brings stories from settlers who lose their contact with their homelands and families, and from the families of MIA soldiers, as well as those lost to Alzheimer's disease, to examine her subject. ...more
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Boss did an incredible job changing the field and with this book on losses, regardless of size. Here are stories of ways that individuals or families can cope and allow what can seem like impossible realities, ones most would rather ignore. (And the ways we deny, ignore, dysfunction together around these changes.)

This is a read for those that have suffered major PTSD or the most tragic of losses. It is also calm guide touching on the thread of the absence, presence, ambivalence, confusion, grie
Michelle Ule
Sep 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This slim book probably could have worked fine as an article, but it has much to teach those who live with a seemingly unending state of uncertainty.

Boss uses examples from the lives of families of Alzheimer patients, POWs, unresolved divorce and other states in which the pain never seems to end. Using her experience as a counselor/therapist, she describes ways she has helped families deal with the uncertainties that can come when the situations go on for long periods of time.

It gave me the oppo
May 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ambiguous loss and grief is a subject that is new to me but explores a state of being that there seemed to be no name for or recognition of. This book is relevant to those of us who have experienced the loss of a loved one who is still alive but profoundly changed (and therefore not the person we knew) either through extended illness, drug addiction, person missing etc. Although the audience is therapists outlining treatment for therapy clients who have experienced ambiguous loss and grief, I fo ...more
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
An insightful book about loss, especially dementia. Many examples and interviews to clarify the experience and suggestions for dealing with it.
"The dilemma for all of us is to bring clarity to an ambiguous situation. Failing that, and we will in most cases, the critical question is how to live with ambiguous loss. For each of us, the answer will be different. But the answers are less critical than the questions." p. 140
Kristine Thurston
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
An invaluable tool for a wide range of ambiguous and difficult situations. There is another book written for professional, which I believe goes int the topic in greater detail. Nevertheless, a worthwhile read for anyone grappling with a loss in which it’s a challenge to find closure or self-forgiveness.
Sep 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really profound but also short and easily read. The book has been around for 20 years now, but ambiguous loss is still not a well-known concept, despite being one that many families have to navigate. The book can do a good job opening a door, even if many difficult decisions still lie through that door.
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Solid suggestions and explanations that helped me with the ambiguous loss felt in living with someone with Alzheimers. Every day contains more uncertainty and unanswered questions.

Some highlights for me:
- When faced with brevity of life, accept it and enjoy what you have!
- The goal is to be at ease with solutions that are imperfect
- If we can learn to accept change, we can learn to live with ambiguity. The process of revision never stops
- The act of seeking information eases the stress of ambigu
Melissa Quinn
Mar 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Read this book to better serve a client I am working with in individual therapy. It definitely gave me some new insights and sparked some new ideas . As a book though it was quite repetitive which made it frustrating to read
Oct 22, 2019 rated it liked it
I was really hoping that this book would touch on parental alienation or parent-child estrangement. Unfortunately, it's quite out of date and tends to focus on loss as a result of aging, or loss as a result of Vietnam.

ar weinstock
Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Grief is harder without finality

The idea that open ended grief exists and is harder to get through explains much personal pain. This reads more like a very long magazine article than a book.
Nancy Pfaffe
Jul 07, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a solid book. It gave me the “language” I needed for my own journey of ambiguous loss. But I have benefited more from books by Jerry Sittser.
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A well researched book by a knowledgeable therapist. Grateful to have this as a category and to have gained an understanding of the impact of ambiguous loss on individuals and families.
Mindy Greiling
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This excellent book helped me to see that our family is doing pretty darn well in coping with our son's mental illness and drug use. I found this very affirming. Wise, research-based words all! ...more
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