There are times in life when someone we love becomes someone we barely recognize. While the person is still physically with us, psychologically they are gone. There are many ranges of reasons this can happen. Some of the most common are addiction, dementia, traumatic brain injuries, mental disorders, & response to severe psychological trauma.
If you have never experienced loving someone who is in such a situation, this can be difficult to understand. The individual you love is still here, perhaps sometimes they ‘look’ sick, or more likely most of the time they don’t. But regardless of how they 'look', they do things they would never have done, they say things they would never have said, treat you in ways they never would have treated you, & they are not there for you in ways that they perhaps previously were. This is feeling is called “ambiguous grief” or “ambiguous loss”.
Hopefully for many, this may sound abstract, but when it occurs in your life it is concrete and real. Your mom, who always loved and supported you, no longer recognizes you, understand you or says hurtful things. You husband, who was always kind and considerate, is now quick to anger and stealing to support an addiction. Your son, who was brilliant and driven, is now struggling within the captivation of his own mind's delusions & hallucinations.
None of these things change our love for the person – we still love our mom with dementia, our husband with an alcohol addiction, our son with schizophrenia. However, this continued love doesn’t change how deeply we miss the person they used to be, or truly the person we lost. We feel we no longer have the same relationship with that person. Perhaps our marriage no longer feels like a marriage when one spouse can no longer remember the other. The parent-child relationship no longer feels the same when a parent has to stop protecting, trusting, or helping a child in the same way due to addiction or mental illness. Though we still have a relationship with the person it has radically changed and we grieve the relationship we used to have.
Our ‘ambiguous grief’ may present itself in the feelings of sadness and yearning, anger and guilt, or a vast array of other emotions. These emotions can become even more complicated than the grief that comes after a death when the behaviors and words of the ‘new’ person gives us pause and causes us to question our own old memories. Or worse, the emotions can start to infiltrate our neurobiology as those old memories begin to fade. The most common complication of ambiguous grief is that many people don’t recognize it as grief. When those around us don’t acknowledge our grief, or make us feel that we have permission to grieve this loss, it can make one feel lonely and isolated. Ambiguous grief is a hard type of grief to open up about because we know others may not acknowledge it.
So the million dollar question is ... What do we do when we are grieving someone who is still alive?
Jodi Moses, LCHT
Washington State Licensed Clinical Hypnotherapist
& Youth Advocate Life Coach
Proudly serving the Greater Pacific Northwest Region.
(Please email me or call to find out when I will be in your area.)
Neurodiversity & Autism Inclusion
Copyright- Healing Lives From Within