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Ambiguous Loss

Ambiguous Loss

At a recent speaking event to a group whom I know has provided therapy to persons with brain injury and their families, when asked how many of them were familiar with the term “ambiguous loss,” not one hand went up. I was shocked.

In its essence, “ambiguous loss” refers to loss without closure; the lack of resolution of either a physical and psychological loss.

A Type 1 ambiguous loss is a physical absence with psychological presence; it is a type of loss that occurs when someone you love is physically absent under unknown, uncertain, or unresolved circumstances. Examples include loss as a result of unexplained disappearances, like kidnapping, war, or natural disasters. 

It can also come from a loss of contact, even if you know where the person is or what has happened to them. This kind of ambiguous loss includes circumstances like divorce, estrangement, or incarceration.

A Type 2 ambiguous loss is a psychological absence with physical presence; this type of loss occurs when someone is physically present but has changed. Examples include changes caused by Alzheimer’s, brain injury, addiction, or mental health issues.

woman sad and in pain after a personal injury accident

No one has to move through the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – in a particular order. But those who have experienced an ambiguous loss may become stuck in “grief limbo,” which can feel like an ongoing trauma. Shame and embarrassment may prevent some people from sharing about their loss.

If you are dealing with ambiguous loss, find a counselor who understands how to address your mental health needs effectively. If your loved one is in a coma due to someone else’s carelessness, the team at Cantor Grana Buckner and Bucci fully understands brain injury and coma and can counsel you on your legal options; call us. 

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