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Ambiguous Loss | Anticipatory Grief

Ambiguous loss was coined by Pauline Boss and can be defined as "a loss that occurs without a significant likelihood of reaching emotional closure or a clear understanding."

This type of loss can result in unresolved and complicated grief, specifically in cases of a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. While the physical of a person may stay the same, their cognitive decline may turn their personality into someone unrecognizable and complicates the grieving process due to potential resentment, anger, or sadness.

It's important to remember that feeling negative emotions while mourning the loss of someone who is still alive is completely normal and valid. When you have fond memories of someone being nurturing and supportive of you and all of a sudden they don't know who you are- that hurts. It's vital to understand that these feelings also don't mean you love them any less.

These tips from What's Your Grief can help you navigate this chapter of ambiguous loss.

  • Remember that the present doesn’t override the past.

  • Understand that the illness isn’t the person.

  • Acknowledge the grief and pain of the loss.

  • Be open to a new type of relationship.

  • Connect with others who can relate.


Anticipatory grief is grief that occurs before death. It is common among people facing the eventual death of a loved one or their own death. Most people expect to feel grief after a death but fewer are familiar with grief that shows up before a life ends. - Very Well Health

These tips from What's Your Grief can help you navigate this chapter of anticipatory grief.

  • Accept that anticipatory grief is normal.

  • Acknowledge your losses.

  • Connect with others.

  • Remember that anticipatory grief doesn’t mean you are giving up.

  • Reflect on the remaining time.

  • Communicate your feelings.

  • Take care of yourself.

  • Take advantage of your support system.

  • Say yes to counseling.

  • Relief is normal.

  • Don't assume anything about your grief once the person has passed.

Nothing can truly prepare you for how you'll react to the process of losing a loved one. Whether it's quick with closure or drawn out with feelings of ambiguous loss and anticipatory grief, the key is to avoid shaming yourself for what you feel and understand that complicated feelings are normal. We'll all, unfortunately, deal with grief at some point, so learning how to best cope with these situations can be helpful.

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