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Ambiguous Loss After Stroke: What Is It and How Do You Process It?

Ambiguous loss refers to a unique type of loss that is characterized by uncertainty and lack of closure. It is a loss that is not clearly defined, such as when a loved one goes missing or is suffering from a chronic illness. The concept of ambiguous loss was first introduced by Dr. Pauline Boss, a family therapist, in the 1970s. The term has since been used to describe various situations where there is no clear resolution or closure.

One population that is particularly affected by ambiguous loss is stroke survivors and their caregivers.

Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability worldwide, and it can have a significant impact on the individual and their family members. Stroke survivors often experience physical, emotional, and cognitive changes that may make it difficult to resume their previous roles and routines. Similarly, caregivers may experience significant changes in their daily lives and relationships with the stroke survivor. Ambiguous loss can be present when there is a sense of loss of the person before and after the stroke, loss of future possibilities and expectations, and loss of roles and relationships.

Processing & Coping with Ambiguous Loss

Processing and coping with ambiguous loss can be challenging, but there are several strategies that can help stroke survivors and caregivers:


  1. Recognize the presence of ambiguous loss:
    • It is important to acknowledge that the loss experienced by stroke survivors and caregivers is not clear cut and that there may be no resolution. Understanding this can help individuals process and cope with their emotions.
  2. Seek support:
    • Finding support from family, friends, and professionals can be helpful in coping with the loss. Support groups can provide a safe space to share experiences and feelings with others who understand what they are going through.
  3. Acceptance:
    • Acceptance of the situation does not mean giving up or forgetting, but rather finding ways to adapt to the new circumstances. It can be helpful to focus on what is still possible, rather than what has been lost.
  4. Self-care:
  5. Seek professional help:
    • A mental health professional can provide tools and techniques to manage the emotions associated with ambiguous loss. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and acceptance and commitment therapy are examples of interventions that can be helpful.


Ambiguous loss is a unique type of loss that can be experienced by stroke survivors and caregivers. Recognizing the presence of ambiguous loss, seeking support, accepting the situation, practicing self-care, and seeking professional help can help individuals process and cope with the loss. It is important to acknowledge that coping with ambiguous loss is a process that takes time, and that healing is not linear. With patience and support, individuals can learn to live with ambiguity and find ways to adapt to the new circumstances.

Are you experiencing ambiguous loss and looking for support? You’re not alone! Check out our online Individual Coaching Sessions where you work with a qualified mental health professional to explore, process, and move through the profess of grief and loss. 



Sources: Ambiguous Loss and Its Complicated Grief: Theory, Research, and Therapy; Family Systems & HealthNational Stroke Association