Ambiguous grief may be a term that you are unfamiliar with. It refers to a continuous grief… a
painful journey that goes on and on with no ending in sight. I prefer to include this type of grief
with my definition of Extraordinary Grief, which essentially means a sorrow that is unusual or
remarkable. When grief results from an event that is unfathomable or unprecedented, I believe
it’s an extraordinary journey the person is on. In these instances the grief may go on indefinitely.
Friends and families coping with events where a body is not recovered may experience this. As
an example, the 227 passengers and 12 crew members aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370,
which disappeared on March 8th elevates their loved ones grief from what I would consider to be
normal to that of extraordinary. Likewise, approximately 2,600 bodies remain missing after the
9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan on March 11, 2011. Can you imagine the sorrow and torture
the loved ones of both the earthquake victims and MH370 passengers are going through? They
know there was a major event and that likely their loved one is dead, but without the body…
they may always question. This is not unlike families who have a soldier missing in action, or a
son or daughter who may have been kidnapped or went mysteriously missing, never to be seen or
heard from again.
Other reasons someone may experience ambiguous grief would be acquired brain injury where
the person’s personality is significantly altered, and they no longer are the person they were prior
to being injured. In essence, they are a complete stranger to their loved ones. Alzheimer’s,
dementia and addictions are also responsible for holding family and loved ones hostage in this
grief. The person sitting before your very eyes is not in any way the person you knew and there
is significant loss with that reality; however, it’s not something you are invited to publicly
Ambiguous grief requires special attention. Those experiencing this type of sorrow may or may
not receive consistent support. Has there been a death/ending to a relationship or not? Seeking
professional advice from a counsellor with experience in this area is critical to moving forward.
Participating in a support group where you can share your feelings and experiences with other
who may be having a similar experience is also beneficial.
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