Ambiguous Loss & Dementia

October 13, 2023
August 28, 2022
Posted by
Bre'anna Wilson
August 28, 2022
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There are two main types of ambiguous loss:

1. Physically Absent

2. Psychologically absent

In this blog, we will be focusing on the psychologically absent variant of ambiguous loss. In this case, ambiguous loss is essentially the mourning of a person who is still physically present, but psychologically absent. So, the person is physically still there, but you realize that your partner is changing, your relationship with them is changing, you are changing — everything is changing. Because of this, you are beginning to mourn the person you once knew, the future you once saw, the relationship dynamic you once had, and the conversations and experiences you once shared. You may even begin to mourn the life you once had now that your days have become increasingly consumed by the care needs of your partner.  

Ambiguous loss can be a very overwhelming and confusing and many times caregivers feel guilty or ashamed for feeling this way. But, let me tell you, feeling this way is completely normal and there is no reason to feel guilty or ashamed about it.

Grieving is a non-linear process. There are some grief models that may help you wrap your mind around what you are experiencing, but what I've found is grief is weird and it's an individual experience. And, unfortunately, ambiguous loss, can further complicate the grieving process.

Sometimes you'll hear ambiguous loss referred to as "the goodbye without leaving." And because your loved one is still physically present, it's almost like a constant reminder of what is and has been lost. For many people, the progressive deterioration of their loved one can be painful to watch and wrap their heads around. There is no time nor space to create emotional detachment as you would once someone passes away.  

The point is, whether your loved one has passed away or they are still alive, if you feel the loss deeply, your grief is valid and it's okay to feel however you are feeling.

Now, because I like to be fully transparent, dealing with grief is NOT my specialty. But, I did want to share a few tips if you feel yourself struggling.  

Tip #1: Feel all your emotions fully.

Feel all your emotions. Dementia brings up a wide range of emotions. Some you may not of even known you had. It's important that you allow yourself to experience them all. Most importantly be kind to yourself and give yourself grace. There's no need to feel bad for feeling bad — it's okay.

Tip #2: Find support.

Find a support group vent, talk, ask questions. You are going to want to someone who understands, this can be family or friends, but often times you will find greater comfort in talking to someone going through a similar situation. Bambu Care actually has a free caregiver support for dementia care partners: Bambu Care Champions. We would love to support you. If you would like to join, you can click here.

Tip #3: Keep a journal.

Keep a journal and express both the good and bad. If you are having a hard time noticing the good moments of the dementia care journey, I highly recommend you invest in our Grow With Gratitude Journal. It's a 100-day self-care and gratitude journal that was made specifically for dementia care partners. It will help you uncover the secret behind continuing to live a happy, fruitful life despite taking on the challenging role as a dementia care partner.

Tip #4: Take respite.

It's important to take Respite BEFORE you feel like you need respite. You have to MAKE time for self-care. Be sure to find small things that bring you joy and make you laugh. Try not to wallow in your pain and despair for too long. Make sure you come up for air and take care of yourself. Take a break and give yourself some space away from your partner. Enlist family, friends, neighbors, community organizations or foundations, contact your local alzheimer's organization and see if they have any recommendations or valuable resources for you.  

Tip #5 Seek professional help.

If it seems like nothing seems to be helping despite everything you've tried, please seek professional help. I recommend finding a grief therapist or counselor in your local area or who is available online if that is more convenient and probable.

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