Ten years ago, our sixteen-year-old son suffered a severe traumatic brain injury playing high school football and instantly became severely disabled for life. Our family has experienced a lot of loss, and I grieved much, but I have also experienced the nearness of God in suffering.
There is no one better at living in the present and enjoying life as it comes, yet Zach needs 24-hour care and support to accomplish basic tasks like walking and eating. He has a unique ability to sense intuitively when something is wrong with me, sometimes even before I am aware of it; yet regarding himself, he can’t get the words out to tell us what he needs. He is happy most of the time, but there is no hope for returning to school, falling in love, working to support himself, or having a family.
Dealing with the losses related to Zach’s injury has been complicated. There are dichotomies. He lifts the spirits of everyone he meets and they walk away full—but five minutes later he doesn’t remember meeting them. I devoured books on grief, but most of them dealt with death. I found little help for the kind of grief we faced.
Finally, I was introduced to the term ambiguous loss.
Author, Pauline Boss coined the term ambiguous loss and wrote a book by that name.
Reading the book helped me understand two different kinds of ambiguous loss.
One kind is when the body is absent, yet the person is psychologically present in the minds of loved ones.
Examples of this loss include those missing from war, natural disasters, kidnapping, or divorce situations; the other kind of loss is when a person is bodily present with loved ones, but is not the same emotionally or cognitively.
Examples of this loss include Alzheimer’s disease, debilitating brain injury, addiction, and other mental illnesses.
Below you will find several articles on ambiguous loss that I wrote for Huffington Post. I will add others over time. For more information on ambiguous loss see the resources below.
Tammy’s Sermon at Memorial Church on Ambiguous Loss
Tammy’s Huffington Post Articles on Ambiguous Loss
Pauline Boss’ Books on Ambiguous Loss
On Pauline Boss’ website you will find many resources about why we all need to understand ambiguous loss, how it differs from ordinary loss, what types there are, how one eases its effects, and a full list of her scholarly articles.
Her two books on ambiguous loss are very helpful. See links and reviews below.