An urgent message from Dr. Pauline Boss
Using "ambiguous loss theory" to help with infectious disease epidemics

Right now, people around the world are in a state of uncertainty and anxiety due to the new coronavirus pandemic. The uncertainty caused by this pandemic is on many levels: business, community, family, and personal. The anxiety can be broad, for example, loss of freedom to go out, loss of controlling one’s life, loss of having normal relationships, a loss of money and finances, a loss of security, a loss of physical contact with family and friends, and losing social opportunities such as going to a concert or relaxing in a cafe. These can all be called "ambiguous losses".


In a broader sense, I think the "ambiguous loss" theory that I am advocating would be helpful. It recognizes that it's not just the virus that's plaguing us, but also the ambiguity of the surrounding situation. Naming this situation "ambiguous loss," makes it easier for us to understand and deal with our own stress.


Being scared, fearful, confused, and angry in a pandemic situation is a very natural and normal response. However, they do cause a great deal of stress. The uncertainty caused by an ambiguous loss can be even more stressful, especially for those who have been in control of their lives or feel they should be. We need to relieve that stress in such an uncertain situation.


In order to do so, it is important to know what is causing one’s stress. By knowing what the problem is, one can begin to deal with it.


There are times when it is necessary to grieve for our own loss. If possible, contact family and friends, even if you can't see them in person, so you don't get isolated. Do some activities in the house that are likely to give you some satisfaction. For example, you can cook dishes you like, play a musical instrument, do exercises that can be done indoors, write letters to people, or anything else. Don't let a sense of helplessness crush you. Do activities you love and maintain a sense of control. Even in your current situation is out of your control, you can gradually increase your sense of control by thinking and doing what works for you.


Each person needs creativity and imagination to deal with this reality. Even if the sense of loss remains, there is still so much we can do.


April 2020 Pauline Boss

About this website

The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 was an unprecedented disaster, killing 15,897 people with 2,533 missing (compiled by the National Police Agency on March 7, 2019). Many people are still having difficulties, like when they face situations like coping with still missing irreplaceable family members, the inability to return to their homes due to contaminations from the nuclear crisis, or the wide-ranging changes of their hometown.


"Ambiguous loss" can be extremely stressful for a family and can lead to endless grief. They can also become deeply hurt because family members who live with them and those around them don't understand their feelings.


Understanding “ambiguous loss” can help people realize what's happening to them and help them cope with it. It also gives those who support them clues on how to better do so.


This "ambiguous loss" information website was launched in 2012 by the JDGS (Japan Disaster Grief Support) Project, a group of professionals who support loss, and reorganized in 2015. Nine years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, Dr. Pauline Boss' ambiguous loss theory has received a wide range of responses, and we are pleased to announce the renewal of our website.
We hope you find it helpful.

Information on ambiguous loss
such as books, workshops
About the JDGS project
which created this website