Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief

Article excerpt

Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief. Pauline Boss. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1999. 140 pp. ISBN 0-674-01738-2. $22.00 cloth.

Ambiguous Loss by Pauline Boss is an easyto-read book addressing the difficulty people and families have when faced with losses that are unclear. She covers many examples of "ambiguous losses," including missing soldiers, missing children, patients with Alzheimer's and other chronic diseases, divorce, absent parents, and immigrant families. Losses can be ambiguous when family members don't know if they will ever see or talk with a loved one again (as in the case of missing relatives and immigrant families) or when a loved one is physically present but is no longer psychologically present (as in the case of Alzheimer's disease).

The case examples from families are rich and show a variety of methods of coping with these difficult situations. Family members' cognitive flexibility and ability to redefine family relationships appear to be crucial in order for families to adapt to these tragic situations. The author also discusses the role of culture in determining how families live with ambiguous loss. Cultural beliefs and traditions have an impact on the grief process, and the lack of rituals for or even discussion of ambiguous loss makes coping with these losses all the harder.

Although the main ideas in the book are interesting and important, the organization of the book did not help to further the main theses. The significant points seemed to be repeated without a clear direction. Each chapter describes a different process that families may experience while going through an ambiguous loss, but the ties between these processes are not clearly articulated. …

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