skip to content

Swimsuit Confidence


Ambiguous Loss - Grief Like No Other

Anita McLachlan - 7th July 2024

The emotions associated with Loss are BIG. And in midlife, they're very familiar. "Ambiguous Loss - Unclear loss with no documentation of permanence of the loss." Dr Pauline Boss.

Grief. Ambiguous Loss.
"Ambiguous Loss - Unclear loss with no documentation of permanence of the loss." Dr Pauline Boss.

The emotions associated with Loss are BIG. And in midlife, they're very familiar.

When I say "Loss" perhaps your mind went straight to death. The death of someone you loved and still love.

But in midlife the losses are many. The loss of Identity - who we are in the midst of all the change. The loss of our work - as we 'retire'. The children leaving home as they become increasingly independent. Relationships and marriages that end.

Loss is BIG in midlife. Different aspects of loss will be covered in many future editions of Midlife Mojo as well as in my new podcast with Erica - Midlife Unfiltered - The Season of Me.

In this post, I wanted to talk about loss from the perspective that is excruciatingly hard at times for me and my family - Ambiguous Loss. As we journey together with Dad who has advanced dementia.

What is Ambiguous Loss?

It's a form of grieving. When someone is present and absent at the same time.

Ambiguous loss as a concept, was coined by a very curious Pauling Boss in the '70's. A researcher, educator and clinician, in the field of family stress. She's in her late 80's now and still is actively involved.

When Do We Feel Ambiguous Loss?

When someone is physically here but they are not the same person they once were. As in the case of my beautiful Dad. He is with us, but in many respects, he's often not. The conversations are very different, how he interacts with us is still with love thankfully, but it's very different. So much is different every day, as we grieve for the husband, the father the friend we once knew. It is indeed the long goodbye. We hold 2 weights of the scale at the same time - absence and presence.

When someone is missing. There is no word from them. We don't know where they are and if they're still alive. We have no certainty. We hold 2 weights of the scale at the same time - absence and presence.

These are examples of the 2 forms of Ambiguous Loss:

  • Psychological absence with physical presence (such as when someone has dementia).
  • Physical absence with psychological presence (such as when a person goes missing and there's ambiguity around whether they're alive or dead)

There are other ways we can feel Ambiguous Loss, many of which are felt in midlife.

Form 1:

  • Divorce and separation - form 1. When you know your 'ex' is alive and perhaps still in your life, but the relationship is very different.
  • Incarceration
  • During the pandemic when we were unable to be with or reach loved ones. AND not able to participate in significant events.

Form 2:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Drug/Alcohol addiction
  • Other addictions - social media and being on our devices
  • Depression and other forms of chronic mental illness
  • The loss of a limb

Why Is Ambiguous Loss So Difficult?
Not to oversimplify, it's because we don't have certainty. Without certainty, we lack control. Not being in control, not having a sense of control is stressful.

"...that's why ambiguous loss can be among the most stressful — because there's often no burial, no neighbors dropping off food after the funeral, and no formal recognition by others that we've lost something." (Pauline Boss - by referenced below).

How To Help With Ambiguous Loss?
I am no psychologist so please seek professional advice in relation to Loss and Grief. These how-to's have been gathered from desktop research and listening to conversations with Dr Boss.

:: Grief therapy does not help - because part of grief therapy is acknowledging the death.

:: Stress based model of therapy works best - ways to learn to live with the stress of the ambiguity.

:: Both-And Thinking - where you hold 2 opposing views at the same time.

:: Support in groups - the support of others going through the same stress eg: caregivers groups. Connection with others who understand first hand what you're going through.

:: Find new things to be hopeful about.

:: Drop the concept of getting 'closure' says Dr Boss. There is no moment you can point to, nothing you can close a door to or sign off on as "complete" or "in the past" when it comes to grief. "We don't grieve in a linear way, and isn't something you simply close the door to. Give yourself permission to grieve, to increase your tolerance for several truths coexisting at once, and to incorporate the loss into your thinking — such that you can find new things to think about and get involved in while acknowledging that the loss is still there."

Where to from here?
If you'd like to understand more about Ambiguous Loss, then I invite you to click on the links in the Read, Watch and Listen area below.

Oh! And check out last week's edition too. Because of our recent email system changes, it wasn't delivered to every subscriber's inbox at once. Deliberately. It's part of the transition process. See the note below.

Further Reading, Watching & Listening
If you enjoyed this edition, here are a few more places to dive in. There are loads more out there. Here is a place to start.

Many Resources are listed here about Ambiguous Loss from the website.

What is Ambiguous Loss and How To Cope With It -

What is Ambiguous Loss and How To Deal With It - Cleveland Clinic.

Bruce Willis has a form of dementia that my Dad has. As does Erica's Mum. In this YouTube video his wife Emma is talking to Dr Boss about Ambiguous Loss. It's beautiful, kind and very informative.

Here is another interview with Dr Boss talking to Susan from Roch Your Shine about Ambiguous Loss. They cover different perspectives and how-to's.


On Being's podcast interview with Dr Boss :

What's Coming Up Next?

In the next edition of Midlife Mojo we are exploring more midlife transition emotions. I'm just not sure which as yet :)
Recent Changes : VIP's are back baby!

VIP's are back baby! Your very own private space at Sequins and Sand. A place where you can : grab your FREE Masterclass, watch & re-watch your paid Masterclasses, store your Shape & Size Calculator info, see your faves in your Wishlist, grab a VIP only discount, get exclusive invites to events and more. Read all about it here.
Email Changes.

We are on a new email system and with that Beyond The Shop is now Midlife Mojo with a freshened up look! What do you think?

Drop me a line at and let me know.

Take care. Be kind to you and each other.

Because girl, you are just getting started :)

Anita xx
P.S. It's a NEW Podcast!

Oh! I almost forgot to new podcast with the fabulous Erica Webb is here. Search for Midlife Unfiltered - The Season Of Me where ever you listen to your podcasts. Or take the short cut and go here.

We've also set up a new YouTube channel (@midlife.unfiltered) an Instagram account and Facebook page for it too so search over there for us and join in the conversations. We'd love to hear from you. If you'd like to know more about the podcast, head over here to the blog. In future episodes we will talk more about Grief and Loss so be sure to tune in.