Navigating incomplete or uncertain losses through a cancer diagnosis
CURE OM Support Group
May 5, 2017
• “...a situation where a loved one is perceived as physically
present while psychologically absent, or physically absent
but kept psychologically present because their status as
dead or alive, dying, or in remission, remains unclear” (Boss
& Couden, 2002, p1352).
• Can also refer to intangible or uncertain losses in a person’s
• i.e. Alzheimer’s disease (psychologically absent), loss of
independence, uncertainty about the trajectory of a diagnosis
Ambiguity and Illness
• Uncertainty can be immobilizing for patient and family (roles
and rules are frozen in place)
• Person is denied symbolic rituals that support clear loss (i.e.
funeral, divorce, etc…)
• Experience remains unverified by the person’s community,
little or no validation of what they are going through or
• An inability to resolve the loss is not a personal flaw
Ambiguous Loss and Ocular Melanoma
• Question of whether to do genetic testing
• OM doesn’t “play by the rules”
• Forced to give up normalcy with the amount of time that is
taken up managing care
• Any other experiences you would like to share?
Tips on Coping
• Recognize it
• Call on others for support
• Be aware of anger and guilt
• Revisit your family roles
• Balance your thinking
• Renew hope
• Look after yourself
• What things have worked for you?
Boss, P. (2010). The trauma and complicated grief of ambiguous loss. Pastoral
Psychology, 59(2), 137-145.
Boss, P., & Couden, B. A. (2002). Ambiguous loss from chronic physical illness: Clinical
interventions with individuals, couples, and families. Journal of Clinical Psychology,
Pauline, P., & Boss, P. (2009). Ambiguous loss: Learning to live with unresolved grief.
Harvard University Press.