Ambiguous Loss

Ambiguous losses are complicated when it comes to acknowledging grief. All forms of grief can be dizzyingly painful. However, the emotions associated with ambiguous loss are often tricky to name.
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The pain of deep loss plays out in unpredictable ways. Unpredictability is vulnerable, and vulnerability leaves me feeling exposed. I may be exposed for what I really am... a mere mortal.

Sometimes, the pain of loss is due to the death of someone treasured. A precious baby girl, a vibrant young mother, a soldier, a grandfather... gone. Their absence leaves an aching emptiness in our hearts and vacant places in our lives.

There is another kind of loss. Ambiguous loss; a loss of heart.

Infidelity crushes a family's stability.
An empty nest exposes a loss of identity.
Sexual betrayal steals a little girl's innocence.
A parent's Alzheimer's steals a son's history.
Chronic illness prevents dreams from taking flight.
Geographic changes produce breaches in friendships.
Babies not conceived thwart a couple's hope.
Divorce shakes ground that was once firm.
A home overflowing with memories disappears in a storm.
A judge rules and utter powerlessness is made evident.
Previous choices made in haste alter current relationships.

Ambiguous losses are complicated when it comes to acknowledging grief. All forms of grief can be dizzyingly painful. However, the emotions associated with ambiguous loss are often tricky to name.

In our independent, pick-yourselves-up-by-your-boot-straps, get-over-it-and-get-on-with-it culture, it is hard to name these ambiguous losses as grief. We aren't even sure if we have the right to feel them.

We hear "but you still have so much to be thankful for," "it's probably better this way," "God must have something better in store for you," and "it was such a long time ago."

It matters little if these platitudes are true or not. They send a message of shame into a heart that is broken. They indicate that feelings of loss are invalid. It's much more difficult to sit with someone who is crumbling under the pain of grief than it is to say something pithy and remove one's heart from engagement.

These clichés are spoken by those who have yet to journey into their own grief. I don't blame them. It's stinkin' hard to grieve. Grief requires honesty, willingness, and acceptance at the most sincere level.

It's a painful process to look directly at what was broken, stolen, thwarted, and feel the full impact of the consequences. We look for any chance to avoid it... in ourselves and others. But, telling a broken heart how it should feel about being broken, only keeps the teller from feeling his or her own brokenness. Dismissing other's pain allows us to dismiss our own.

If you have felt shamed for the pain of loss, please use these words as a "get out of shame free" card. You have a right to feel sorrow, grief, heartache, loss, and pain. You have the right to feel it as long as you need. Feelings have no moral value. They just are.

A wise woman once told me, "Grief is a process, depression is not. If you can feel it, you can heal it." I may not have been responsible for what caused all the losses in my life, but I am responsible for processing my grief in a healthy way as to not hurt others with my pain.

What have you lost? What has left the deepest ache in your soul? You don't have to keep quiet any longer. You can grieve free from shame. Grief, regardless of the source, is not shameful. Controlling another's grief, because we are uncomfortable with our own pain, is.

Regardless if your grief and pain is from a death or from the many other losses we experience in this life, find a safe place to grieve and safe people to grieve with. You deserve to be free.

Grieving is Healing. Grieving is Freeing. Grieving is Growing.

For more information on this subject, go to Grief and Loss at