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Caregiving and Ambiguous Grief

September 24, 2015

By Editor
“The word ambiguous helped me understand what was going on. I’m still married to her, I love her but I don’t live with her. I’ve always been crazy about her and still am. She’s still looked after, but it is a huge loss for me. The ambiguity is exactly how I feel”          
- a male caregiver

Loss and grief are among the most significant and challenging issues you will face as a caregiver when supporting a person with dementia.  Ambiguous grief is a type of loss you feel when a person with dementia is physically here, but may not be mentally or emotionally present in the same way as before. Feelings of loss and grief can occur in different ways at all stages in the dementia caregiving journey.
Ambiguous grief differs from the loss and grief following a loved one’s death largely because closure is not possible. The person with dementia, regardless of their cognition, still remains a core self - unlike a death where you know that the person is clearly gone. With a death, you are also more likely to get support from family and friends and find closure through traditional mourning rituals. With ambiguous grief, it may be hard for you or your friends and family to recognize your need to grieve the many losses you experience throughout your loved one’s disease trajectory. Ambiguous loss therefore complicates one’s grief.
People with dementia are also likely to experience feelings of loss and grief at the point of diagnosis and/or through the progression of living with the condition. 
While it can be more difficult to manage feelings than it is to cope with practical aspects of caring, it is important to know grieving is a normal and healing response to loss. Recognizing these feelings and understanding the concept of ambiguous grief and loss can help to ease the effects. Talking openly with family, friends, health care providers or Alzheimer Society staff can support you in your experience with ambiguous loss. Knowing you are not alone and that others are willing to listen can make acceptance easier.
For more information about ambiguous grief and loss please join us at our Speaker Series on Tuesday, September 29 (7:00 – 8:30pm) at the Kiwanis Seniors Community Centre, 78 Riverside Drive.  The presentation will be delivered by Dr. Darcy Harris (Ph.D) and will touch on various aspects of ambiguous grief, such as recognizing ambiguous grief and coping strategies for those experiencing it. A question and answer session follows Dr. Harris’ presentation.
 Admission and parking is free for these important informational sessions. For those who can’t attend, the Alzheimer Society will be streaming the Speakers Series live on our website. For more information about this Speakers Series and the link for the webcast go to our website at
Call out box if enough room:
Speakers Series 2015
Tuesday September 29th, 7:00 – 8:30p.m.
Kiwanis Seniors Community Centre
“Exploring Living Losses:
When What Dies is Inside of You”
With Darcy Harris Ph.D.