What is Ambiguous Grief?

by | Sep 1, 2021 | Dementia, Grief


Grief comes to us in many forms. We grieve the loss of a loved one, a pet, a job. Ambiguous loss is different. It is grieving without closure. It’s grieving someone who is still with us.


Ambiguous grief can come from a divorce or breaking up with someone. It happens when family members go missing without a trace. It can come from a falling out with a life-long friend, or even a pet that has gone missing.

Ambiguous Grief


Ambiguous grief is grieving someone who is no longer a part of our lives. Besides a break-up, it is what happens when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia.


The person can be in the same room with you yet you feel a deep loss. They may not recognize you, your family, or even their surroundings. It is a difficult situation to cope with.


Everyone can experience ambiguous grief. Children of divorce who no longer see one of their parents. A runaway teen. A family member who may be in a coma. Even parents who are experiencing the empty nest syndrome.


Signs of Ambiguous Grief

Ambiguous grief is different for everyone

People who are coping with ambiguous grief often feel many conflicting feelings. Everyone will cope differently and these symptoms can fluctuate. This happens more so with ambiguous grief, as there is often little information to assuage our feelings.


People coping with ambiguous grief can often experience anger, depression, and uselessness. These are very common as there is seemingly nothing they can do to rectify their situation.


This type of grief is often much more difficult to come to terms with. When someone dies, it is final. We know how to cope and move to the next stage of the situation, although each in their own way.


People can feel like life is very unfair, there is no point in anything, and the world is against them. People can often become obsessed with trying to find a simple, ‘why’.


All too often, people feel guilty, like survivors’ guilt. They wonder about how they could have done things differently or visited more often. All too often, there is a sense of false hope.


Grieving Someone Who Is Still Alive

Grief and living

Uncertainty is one of the most difficult losses to cope with. Whether someone has gone missing or is living with dementia, the griever lives in limbo. It can actually feel morbid and wrong to experience feelings of grief and loss for someone who is still alive.


Because we all grieve differently, it can be difficult to find allies within your own family. Some people may hang on to hope that things will turn around. They may decide to stay positive and not face the grief until their actual passing.


Others need to start the process right away. Perhaps as soon as the person with dementia reaches the later stages, the grief process may start there for some. There is no right or wrong way to experience grief.


It can feel very morbid for those grieving. Often, people think about the person passing and wish the process would come quickly. These can make the griever feel horrible about themselves.


Understanding that dementia patients will not recover, it can be a comfort to think of them finally being at peace. Living with ambiguous grief is exhausting. It’s natural that someone may wish for the whole ordeal to just end.


Coping With Ambiguous Grief


Coming to terms with what you are experiencing may not be easy. Look for support within your own family, as they are going through it, as well. While you may not all experience it the same way, you will have that commonality.


Try to explain to younger members what is going on. It can be very difficult for them to come to terms with what is happening. Try to use terms that will not scare or alarm them.


Finding a support group where people are all coping with the same issue can be extremely helpful. You can express all of the things you feel without judgment.


Try to be mindful of your own needs. Try to keep your regular routine, eat right, exercise, and avoid self-medicating. Getting out with friends and forgetting about your grief is a great way to release stress.


Try to find closure in any way you can. Read up about dementia and talk to experts. Find ways to rid yourself of guilt and try to accept that there are no answers.

Ambiguous Grief


If you are really struggling, seek out professional help. One-on-one dialogue can help you find your way back. They will be able to provide resources, support, and hear what you are going through with understanding and judgment-free. You may feel alone but you never are. Reach out to people who are living the same thing.

We Are Here To Help

At Sycamore Creek Ranch Memory Care we are here to help. We want families to make the best decision for their situation.

Furthermore, the staff at Sycamore Creek Ranch is proactive. That means we are not waiting for a problem to arise. Instead, we are actively engaged with each and every resident. And with only 16 residents we can do that!  Come for a tour at Sycamore Creek Ranch! See how we can help!










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