Ambiguous loss

“There is no such thing as closure. We have to live with loss – clear or ambiguous. And it’s okay … it’s okay to see people who are hurting and just to say something simple: ‘I’m so sorry.’ You really don’t have to say more than that.”

So said Pauline Boss, a psychologist who recently appeared on On Being, a radio interview show hosted by Krista Tippett. (

The phrase Boss coined, and the field of study she started, “ambiguous loss,” is particularly apt for people with Alzheimer’s disease and those of us who love them and care for them. A person with Alzheimer’s disease loses part of herself on a regular basis. Her family members lose the person she was, become accustomed to the new person, and then lose her, too.  There is no closure. 

And as someone who lost her parents 10 and 11 years ago, I appreciate Boss’s point that closure is a myth. There is not a day when I don’t think of my parents. American culture pushes us to get over our losses – to move on. But my continuing dialog with my parents doesn’t seem unhealthy to me. 

Interestingly, I don’t that often think of the old J, my wife, before we figured out she had Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe that’s because we are so still in the midst of it. She recently moved to a continuing care retirement community – almost seven years after diagnosis. Or maybe it’s because it’s too painful to focus on the bitingly funny and fiercely intelligent woman she used to be.

Everything, of course, changes. There is great wisdom in not seeking to arrest anything or anyone in motion. Perhaps that is the overwhelming lesson of Alzheimer’s disease. 

One thought on “Ambiguous loss”

  1. I continued to be moved by your deep and thoughtful responses to your unfolding story of love, commitment, and care. Your wisdom and humor provide windows of insight for me, one of your many admirers. Thank you for sharing your journey with your followers.


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