Clue to recovery

Leaving without Goodbye

When Dr. Pauline Boss visited Japan in 2012, she told us that getting as much accurate information as possible to families of the missing could help them recover from “ambiguous loss”. Here’s an example


After an ambiguous loss, no matter how solid or stable a person may be, the mind becomes unstable. Also, family relationships that were previously uneventful/good can become strained by an ambiguous loss. It is not that person’s fault, nor is it that family’s problem. It’s the “ambiguous loss” situation that people and families feel stuck in. The cause of all their problems doesn’t come from within themselves or their family, it comes from the outside.


People prefer certainty and stability. It’s natural to look for quick answers if everything is either right or wrong / black or white in their situation and their feelings. However, when coping with ambiguous loss, the important thing is not to look for an answer or punctuate your feelings. This is because it’s hard to find closure, even if you want to. So let’s try “both A and B” thinking. For example, “That person is gone, but he’s still in my heart,” or “I’m worried that the situation won’t change, but I also have an opportunity to move forward.


One thing that is very important for recovery is connecting with people. Most people have the power to recover on their own if they can get support from their family and the community. Do you have support that provides you with the right information? Also, do you have access to “a person like a family member” right now? (It doesn’t have to be a real family member, but a person you might feel is a “psychological family member”). The person who listen to your feelings or support you spiritually. They may care about you as if you were part of their family. Connecting with someone you can trust can help with peace of mind or make life a little easier.


Take a few moments to look back at your current situation with a kind heart, without blaming yourself or anyone else. What have you or your family members lost through this ambiguous loss? Even without that person, what do you still have? What does this situation mean to you? Are there disagreements within your family about the loved one who is no longer there? Is there any conflict between husband and wife, parent and child, or siblings because of this? Have any family roles or rules changed after this ambiguous loss?

If you have the opportunity, hearing such stories from people in a similar situation can provide great impetus to move forward.