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Top 25 Ambiguous Grief Quotes

Ambiguous Grief Quotes

This post contains some of the best ambiguous grief quotes.

What Is Ambiguous Grief?

Ambiguous grief is the feeling experienced from the loss of a loved one who is still living but absent physically or psychologically.

The terms “ambiguous loss” and “ambiguous grief” were first coined in 1999 by Pauline Boss based on her work with individuals whose loved one’s death was itself ambiguous. That is due to circumstances surrounding the loss, death was not confirmed (e.g., a solider missing in action, a natural disaster, a kidnapping, etc.).

But ambiguous loss can also be psychological such as when the loved one has dementia, Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury, or other types of cognitive decline.

Related: Grieving Someone Who Is Still Alive – Ambiguous Grief

Ambiguous Grief Quotes

1. “Their losses of beloved family members were never resolved, and so those who lived with them also experienced the ambiguity of absence and presence.” – Pauline Boss

2. “Unless people resolve the ambiguous loss—the incomplete or uncertain loss—that is inherent in uprooting, and bring into some congruence their psychological and physical families, the legacy of frozen grief may affect their offspring for generations to come, compounding itself as more ordinary losses inevitably occur.” – Pauline Boss

3. “When people experience ambiguous losses, causing confusion and distress, the psychological family becomes especially important in efforts to minimize the pain.” – Pauline Boss

4. “For the one who experiences it, however, the ambiguity of waiting and wondering is anything but romantic.” – Pauline Boss

Related: Best 21 Grief Journaling Prompts (+FREE Grief Worksheets PDF)

5. “Ambiguous loss is always stressful and often tormenting.” – Pauline Boss

6. “People hunger for certainty. Even sure knowledge of death is more welcome than a continuation of doubt.” – Pauline Boss

7. “The uncertainty makes ambiguous loss the most distressful of all losses, leading to symptoms that are not only painful but often missed or misdiagnosed.” – Pauline Boss

8. “Ambiguous loss can cause personal and family problems, not because of flaws in the psyches of those experiencing the loss, but because of situations beyond their control or outside constraints that block the coping and grieving processes.” – Pauline Boss

9. “Few if any supportive rituals exist for people experiencing ambiguous loss. Their experience remains unverified by the community around them, so that there is little validation of what they are experiencing and feeling.” – Pauline Boss

Related: Best +30 Grief Activities For Adults (+FREE Worksheets PDF)

10. “the absurdity of ambiguous loss reminds people that life is not always rational and just; consequently, those who witness it tend to withdraw rather than give neighborly support, as they would do in the case of a death in the family” – Pauline Boss

11. “With this special kind of loss, the ambiguity can stem either from a lack of information about the loss or from conflicting perceptions about which family members people see as absent or present in their intimate circle.” – Pauline Boss

12. “In the case of ambiguous loss, however, melancholia, or complicated grieving, can be a normal reaction to a complicated situation—the endless searching of a battle field by the mother of a missing soldier; a stepchild’s angry outbursts when his biological parent is totally excluded; a wife’s depression and withdrawal because her husband has suffered a brain injury and is no longer himself. The inability to resolve such ambiguous losses is due to the outside situation, not to internal personality defects.” – Pauline Boss

13. “Unlike death, an ambiguous loss may never allow people to achieve the detachment that is necessary for normal closure.” – Pauline Boss

14. “Just as ambiguity complicates loss, it complicates the mourning process. People can’t start grieving because the situation is indeterminate. It feels like a loss but it is not really one. The confusion freezes the grieving process.” – Pauline Boss

Related: Grief Comes In Waves: Top 12 Lessons From Grief No One Talks About

15. “Ambiguous loss from psychological absence is also experienced by families coping with other chronic mental illnesses, such as addiction to drugs or alcohol. The sick family member is present but his or her mind is not. As with dementia, family members learn to “walk on eggshells” because they never know if their loved one is going to be one way or another—like having a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the family.” – Pauline Boss

16. “Whatever the cause, ambiguous loss from psychological absence, like that from physical absence, is the culprit causing distress for couples and families in diverse situations.” – Pauline Boss

17. “Ambiguous loss is the most stressful loss people can face. Not only does it disrupt their family by diminishing the number of its functioning members and requiring someone else to pick up the slack, but more uniquely, the ambiguity and uncertainty confuse family dynamics, forcing people to question their family and the role they play in it. “Am I married or not since my husband has been missing for decades?” “How do I answer how many children I have when I gave one up for adoption?” “Are we still a couple even though my partner has dementia and no longer knows me?”” – Pauline Boss

Related: How To Help A Grieving Friend? 6 Things to Avoid Saying to a Grieving Person

18. “Indeed, ambiguous loss can freeze people in place so that they can’t move on with their lives.” – Pauline Boss

19. “Highly stressed families experiencing ambiguous losses are too often left on their own to find a way out, because existing rituals and community supports only address clear-cut loss such as death.” – Pauline Boss

20. “When the ambiguous loss is the result of a chronic illness or a disability, even strong families may need help in managing the stress.” – Pauline Boss

21. “Ambiguous loss is also a psychologically distressing event that is outside the realm of ordinary human experience; like the events triggering PTSD, it lacks resolution and traumatizes.” – Pauline Boss

22. “Ambiguous loss is typically a longterm situation that traumatizes and immobilizes, not a single event that later has _ashback effects.” – Pauline Boss

Related: ACT For Grief and Loss: 6 Powerful Tools and Worksheets to Help You Move Forward with Grief – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

23. “Learning to live with the ambiguity of divorce and remarriage requires a whole new set of skills. The ~rst is to revise our perception of who our family is and who it is not. To determine this we might ask ourselves whom we would invite to a special family celebration or ritual such as a wedding, graduation, bar mitzvah, baptism, or birthday. Such guest lists quickly reveal whom we consider “family” or “coparent” as well as whom we exclude as family. Today, the lists often include divorced partners and their new mates.” – Pauline Boss

24. “One way to determine adoptive parents’ tolerance for ambiguity may be to explore whether they chose an open or closed adoption. When adoption ~les are voluntarily open and all parties are known to one another, the adopting family appears to be able to tolerate ambiguity and is able to think about, even include, the birth mother in their lives.” – Pauline Boss

25. “We have established that, in our modern world, we soothe the pain of grief from death with events like funerals, while with ambiguous loss, we continue to wait, lighting candles in vigil in an effort to assuage our grief. But what do we do when there is no physical death or chance of reunion?” – Stephanie Sarazin

Related: Resilient Grieving: Best 17 Ways To Manage Grief In The Workplace (+FREE Grief Worksheets)

Grief WorkSheets

Why Is Grief So Painful?

Grief is a natural and universal response to loss, particularly the loss of someone or something significant to us.

It is a complex emotional experience that can be incredibly painful and challenging to navigate. There are several reasons why grief can be so painful:

1. Attachment: Grief is often closely tied to the strong emotional attachment we have with the person or thing we have lost. The deeper the attachment, the more intense the grief can be. When we lose someone we love, we also lose the future we imagined with them, the emotional support they provided, and the sense of security and belonging they may have offered.

2. Emotional processing: Grief involves processing a wide range of emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, confusion, and longing. These emotions can be overwhelming and may come in unpredictable waves. The intensity of these emotions can contribute to the pain associated with grief.

3. Sense of void: Losing someone significant can create a profound sense of emptiness and a feeling of a void in our lives. We may miss the presence, companionship, and connection we had with the person who is no longer there. Adjusting to this new reality can be incredibly challenging and painful.

4. Meaning-making: Grief often involves questioning and reevaluating our beliefs, values, and sense of meaning in life. We may struggle to make sense of the loss and find it difficult to incorporate the absence of the person or thing into our understanding of the world. This search for meaning can add to the emotional burden of grief.

5. Grief triggers: Various triggers, such as anniversaries, reminders, or certain places, can reignite the pain of loss and bring waves of grief back. These triggers can make the grieving process feel prolonged and intensify the pain.


While the pain of grief can feel overwhelming, it is important to remember that it is a normal and necessary part of the healing process.

It is crucial to seek support from loved ones, friends, or even a mental health professional to help navigate through the grieving process.


  • Portions of this article were adapted from the book Ambiguous Loss, © 1999 by Pauline Boss. All rights reserved.

By Hadiah

Hadiah is a counselor who is passionate about supporting individuals on their journey towards mental well-being. Hadiah not only writes insightful articles on various mental health topics but also creates engaging and practical mental health worksheets.

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