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Coping with the Suffering of Ambiguous Loss

Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS,volume 56)

Abstract

This chapter addresses a particular kind of suffering—that of having a family member go physically missing. There is no official proof of being either dead or alive. Remaining family members are immobilized by the confusion, but many live a quality life despite the pain of no closure. The goal here is to provide a better understanding of ambiguous loss, its unique kind of suffering, and the surprising resilience that often emerges despite unanswered questions. Intervention guidelines, now tested for cross-cultural application, are provided.

Keywords

  • Suffering
  • Ambiguous loss
  • Unresolved loss
  • Frozen grief
  • Meaning
  • Mastery
  • Identity
  • Ambivalence
  • Attachment
  • Hope
  • Psychological family
  • Cultural differences

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For more information about Type II ambiguous loss, psychologically absent while physically present, see Boss (1999, 2004, 2006); Boss and Dahl (2014).

  2. 2.

    From “Four Quartets.” Eliot (1980).

  3. 3.

    Portions of this paragraph appeared in The Guardian Op Ed, “The Pain of Flight MH370 Lies in Its Ambiguity,” by Pauline Boss, on March 18, 2014.

  4. 4.

    As a result of Robins’ findings, I have adjusted Guideline #2, “Tempering Mastery,” and re-titled it “Adjusting Mastery,” which can mean either raising or lowering one’s mastery orientation, depending on the culture.

  5. 5.

    To ease the pain of ambiguous loss, traditional grief therapies are insufficient: the family will resist the fact of death and the idea of closure. They will exhibit symptoms of unresolved grief, but that may reflect a normal sadness, not depression. While the treatment for depression is often medication, the treatment for sadness is human connection. Such connection lies beyond that of therapist and patient; it requires a steady community connection to the people in one’s everyday life—relatives, friends, and neighbors (Boss 2006; Landau 2007; Robins 2010; Saul 2013).

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Correspondence to Pauline Boss .

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Boss, P. (2015). Coping with the Suffering of Ambiguous Loss. In: Anderson, R. (eds) World Suffering and Quality of Life. Social Indicators Research Series, vol 56. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9670-5_10

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