The Coronavirus pandemic has forced many residential care facilities to go on lockdown and implement “no visitor” policies.  As a result, family members with loved ones in care facilities are feeling a heightened sense of “ambiguous loss”—a term coined by pioneering educator and researcher Dr. Pauline Boss to describe a form of never-ending grief.  Common in caregivers of family members with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, this feeling of grief arises because the person with dementia is “there but not there.”  Another form of ambiguous loss was noted by Dr. Boss in the early 1970s, when she interviewed family members of pilots who were missing in action during the Vietnam War.  These family members were unable to “let go” of their loved ones because they did not know whether the pilot was dead or alive.  Dr. Boss elaborates on both forms of ambiguous loss and tells us how she has experienced it in her own life.  She offers suggestions for how to lower stress levels and increase our tolerance for ambiguity, for caregivers and non-caregivers alike who are now confronting new and confusing relationships, ruptured by dementia and social distancing. Note: this episode originally aired on May 30, 2019.

Explore the work of Dr. Pauline Boss: Ambiguous Loss

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Music: “Arashi” by Kakurenbo | CC BY NC | Free Music Archive