Ambiguous Loss

Ambiguous Loss

(Guideposts email article April 25, 2019)

Experiencing unresolved grief is common for a caregiver of a loved one with dementia, depression or other condition in which the person is present physically, but changed or absent psychologically. There is actually a name for it – ambiguous loss. Home Instead Senior Care recently hosted a live chat with social worker Susy Favaro of the Banner Alzheimer’s institute on how caregivers can cope with ambiguous loss. Some tips:

  • Say yes to help.
    Put a name to it. Favaro believes the real culprit being caregiver stress is the ambiguity of having a loved one who is lost only partially.” The grief of that leads to anxiety, ongoing strain and confusion,” she says. “It affects family relationships.” Identifying this as ambiguous loss helps caregivers see “they’re not crazy – it’s the situation that’s crazy.


  • Accept that good enough is good enough.
    “This is another Dr. Boss principle,” Favaro says. “Doing things perfectly isn’t possible with caregiving due to the uncertainty and unpredictability.” Try to balance control with acceptance. Accept that you cannot master the disease affecting your loved one and take control of what you can; your thoughts, your reactions and tending to your own health.
  • Learn to manage your mixed emotions.
    Caregivers often have two conflicting emotions simultaneously. For example, thinking I want this to be over and feeling guilty because that means the person you’re caring for would be gone. Guilt, anger, frustration – “it’s normal to have these emotions, but we don’t want to act them out,” Favaro says. That’s why it is important to share your feelings and the losses and changes you experience with others: friends, a support group, a pastor, a counselor.


  • Imagine new hopes and dreams.
    “Think about what you can do to nourish yourself while you’re providing care and what you would like to do in the future,” Favaro suggest. “Is there anything you can do now toward that? What would your family member want you to do in the future?”

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