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Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief 1st Edition

46 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674003811
ISBN-10: 0674003810
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Boss, a practicing psychotherapist and professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota, defines and explores ambiguous loss, a common and painful condition. Typified by a sense of "frozen grief," it can occur when a loved one is taken away (through desertion, divorce, or abduction) or can no longer respond (owing to mental or emotional loss or injury). Boss has written a thorough and compassionate study that serves as a guide to those trying to cope and get on with their lives. Case studies and anecdotes inspire and reassure, and Boss encourages self-nurturance and strength. Recovery can pave the way to a more positive and successful life. This book is beautifully written in clear, nontechnical language. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.AYan Toma & Jessica Wolff, Queens Borough P.L., Flushing, NY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A compassionate exploration of the effects of ambiguous loss and how those experiencing it handle this most devastating of losses. Family therapist and researcher Boss (Univ. of Minnesota) has studied ambiguous loss in the families of pilots declared missing in action in Vietnam and Cambodia, in midlife couples whose adolescent children have recently left home, and in families where one member has Alzheimer's. This latter group includes Native American women of the Ashinabe tribe in northern Minnesota. The author divides ambiguous loss into two basic types: first, where someone is perceived as physically absent but psychologically present, e.g., men declared missing in action who are not known to be alive or dead; second, where someone is perceived to be psychologically absent but physically present, e.g., a spouse with dementia or other mental illness. Situations that can create a feeling of ambiguous loss also include such common phenomena as immigration or a move, adoption, divorce, and the workaholism of a partner. Boss finds that the uncertainty of such situations can easily lead to depression, anxiety, and family conflict. Using personal narratives of those she has worked with, she reports how those experiencing ambiguous loss often struggle to control an unclear situation by searching for absolutes, either denying that anything has changed or, alternatively, acting as though the loved one is completely gone. Among the Ashinabe women, however, she found a spiritual acceptance of ambiguity, indicating that a tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty seems to be related to cultural values and spiritual beliefs. As a family therapist, Bosss own approach is to encourage families to talk together, to reach a consensus about how to mourn that which has been lost and how to celebrate that which remains. Her simple stories of families doing just that contain lessons for all. Insightful, practical, and refreshingly free of psychobabble. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (October 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674003810
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674003811
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pauline Boss, Ph.D., is emeritus professor at the University of Minnesota and was visiting professor at Harvard Medical School, 1995-1996, and Hunter School of Social Work, 2004-2005. She is best known for groundbreaking research as the pioneer theorist and clinical practitioner of stress reduction for people whose loved ones are ambiguously lost.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 63 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover
At one point while I was reading this book, my wife asked me, "How's the book?" I said, "I've had to stop reading and brush away the tears nine times so far."
The first several pages of the book constitute one of the finest examples I have ever read of what Aristotle meant by ethos and pathos as powerful elements of rhetoric. Professor Boss masterfully and unpretentiously builds our confidence in her character and credibility from the first paragraph. Then she quickly grabs our hearts and never lets go.
The humility with which the author presents her thesis is so utterly refreshing: no pontificating, no posturing, no attacking or discounting beliefs or experiences different from her own.
But what touched and gratified me most of all is the extraordinary grace and sensitivity Ms. Boss has achieved in this work. Into and among the facts and conclusions, the science if you will, she has woven powerful, heart-wrenching stories and personal experiences--all of which are further enhanced by her deft references to beloved works of art, literature, poetry and music. What a rich, vibrant tapestry! Or, in light of the warmth, honesty and and lack of self consciousness in her writing, maybe it would more accurate to compare the book to one of her Grandmother Elsbeth's quilts.
As I remember, one quote on the jacket said that this is a "healing" book. That may very well be an understatement. And the application is universal. I'm sure my tears came in part from my recognition of several instances of unresolved ambiguous loss in my own life.
I am grateful to Pauline Boss for touching my heart deeply, for creating a new awareness in me and for helping me to begin some of my own healing.
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62 of 68 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 19, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Here's how I would rate this book if I had the flexibility to do so: five stars, if you need to prove to someone in your life that there is such a thing as ambiguous loss; three stars if your family is suffering the pyschological loss of a family member through a disease such as Alzheimer's; and two stars if you are trying to name or process any other ambiguous loss, from a parent who disappeared after a divorce to a miscarriage to a friendship that melts away.
Be warned: You will not find in these pages much practical advice for dealing with ambiguous loss. Boss's main goal seems to be convincing other therapists and laypeople that ambiguous loss exists. The one concrete step she advocates is family sessions with one or more therapists in attendance for illness-related losses, mainly Alzheimer's.
In non-illness related loss, the book is weak. Boss skims by the effects of a father or mother disappearing after a divorce; families with a history of cutting off family members; the fading of once-close friendships; loss experienced after the ending of an illicit relationship; or rejection in professional situations. She acknowledges these are losses but not how to approach them as such.
In short, if you as an individual already know you are grieving an ambiguous loss and want specific help in dealing with that, you'll find this book disappointing. You'll do better to purchase books on grief/the grieving process.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Boss's book landed in my hands quite by accident, at a time when my closest friend moved away. I was devistated, and I was totally unprepared to deal with my emotional and psychological reactions to the situation simply because I didn't understand the reasons for them. Dr. Boss helped me see my grief as natural and normal, and gave me a footing to rebuild on. The stories of immigrants were most affective in my case; but other stories of ambiguous loss situations also helped me to deal with my ex-husband, and with my father's slow death. I have come to realize also all the little ambiguous losses we live with everyday. They are not death; they are part of life.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By mothermaven on July 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
I just finished reading this book and I found it quite moving and helpful for those who are dealing with caring for Alzeimers patients. It also explains in detail on ambiguous loss of families of MIAs and those who are immigrants. It also gives some good insights on families who are dealing with family members who are slowly dying. She offers hope for families who are dealing with these issues.
While I am appreciative of her recognition that those who are touched by adoption deal with ambiguous loss, she really did not give it the attention that she gave other cases of ambiguous loss. As someone touched by adoption, I found it lacking and therefore I am taking 1 star away for those who come to this book seeking answers to adoption issues. I came away with the feeling that she had limited knowledge of adoption issues. She tended to concentrate on topics close to her heart and related to her research area. I would really like to see a book that deals with Ambiguous Loss in Adoption in more detail.
If adoption is not a part of your experience, but you are dealing with those in your life who are physically present, but not psychologically present, or who are psychologically present, but not physically present, this book can be a good first step.
The book could have been far more in-depth than it is.
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