Cover image for Ambiguous loss : learning to live with unresolved grief
Ambiguous loss : learning to live with unresolved grief
Boss, Pauline.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
155 pages ; 22 cm
Reading Level:
1160 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BF575.D35 B67 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
BF575.D35 B67 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



When a loved one dies we mourn our loss. We take comfort in the rituals that mark the passing, and we turn to those around us for support. But what happens when there is no closure, when a family member or a friend who may be still alive is lost to us nonetheless? How, for example, does the mother whose soldier son is missing in action, or the family of an Alzheimer's patient who is suffering from severe dementia, deal with the uncertainty surrounding this kind of loss? In this sensitive and lucid account, Pauline Boss explains that, all too often, those confronted with such ambiguous loss fluctuate between hope and hopelessness. Suffered too long, these emotions can deaden feeling and make it impossible for people to move on with their lives. Yet the central message of this book is that they can move on. Drawing on her research and clinical experience, Boss suggests strategies that can cushion the pain and help families come to terms with their grief. Her work features the heartening narratives of those who cope with ambiguous loss and manage to leave their sadness behind, including those who have lost family members to divorce, immigration, adoption, chronic mental illness, and brain injury. With its message of hope, this eloquent book offers guidance and understanding to those struggling to regain their lives.

Author Notes

She received her Ph.D. in Child Development and Family Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she subsequently taught for many years. In 1981, she joined the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, where she is now Professor and Clinical Supervisor in the doctoral training program in marriage and family therapy. She was appointed Visiting Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, 1995-96. Dr. Boss is a past-president of the National Council on Family Relations and is a past-president of the Groves conference on Marriage and the Family.


Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Boss, a practicing psychotherapist and professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota, defines and explores ambiguous loss, a common and painful condition. Typified by a sense of "frozen grief," it can occur when a loved one is taken away (through desertion, divorce, or abduction) or can no longer respond (owing to mental or emotional loss or injury). Boss has written a thorough and compassionate study that serves as a guide to those trying to cope and get on with their lives. Case studies and anecdotes inspire and reassure, and Boss encourages self-nurturance and strength. Recovery can pave the way to a more positive and successful life. This book is beautifully written in clear, nontechnical language. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.ÄYan Toma & Jessica Wolff, Queens Borough P.L., Flushing, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Engagingly written and richly rewarding, this title presents what Boss (Univ. of Minnesota) has learned from many years of treating individuals and families suffering from uncertain or incomplete loss. Such "ambiguous losses" result not only when a family member or loved one is unconfirmed as dead or alive (e.g., MIAs and children who are abducted or disappear) but also from the separations that accompany divorce, adoption, immigration, and dementia. In such situations, sufferers cannot properly grieve for the lost person and may succumb to depression or other psychological maladies. Boss illustrates consequences for individual and family functioning through many examples gleaned from her clients and from studies she has conducted on the families of missing children and caregivers of dementia patients. She then describes strategies she has developed for coping with ambiguous loss. Though this reviewer is often uncomfortable with impressionistic, psychotherepeutic evidence for the utility of a particular construct, the obvious depth of the author's understanding of sufferers of ambiguous loss and the facility with which she communicates that understanding make this a book to be recommended to all academic libraries. R. R. Cornelius; Vassar College

Table of Contents

1 Frozen Griefp. 1
2 Leaving without Goodbyep. 26
3 Goodbye without Leavingp. 45
4 Mixed Emotionsp. 61
5 Ups and Downsp. 77
6 The Family Gamblep. 93
7 The Turning Pointp. 106
8 Making Sense out of Ambiguityp. 118
9 The Benefit of a Doubtp. 133
Notesp. 143
Acknowledgmentsp. 153