Grief is really a loss. Losing a relationship, losing a job and losing a person are the most obvious forms of grief, however, grief comes in many disguises. All painful in their own way.
Select the type of grief you are interested in below for more information.
There are times in life when someone we love becomes someone we barely recognise. The person is still physically with us, but psychologically you are apart.
There are a range of reasons this can happen. Some of the most common are things like addiction, dementia, traumatic brain injuries, and mental illness. Uncommon things but real, are things like losing people to consipracy theories or cults. If you have never lived through loving someone in such a situation, this can be hard to understand. The person you love is still there, sometimes they ‘look’ sick, sometimes 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, and they are not there for you in ways they previously were. This is sometimes referred to as “ambiguous grief” or “ambiguous loss”.
This may sound very abstract, but when it occurs in your life it is very concrete and real. Your mom, who always loved and supported you, doesn’t recognise you, understand you or says hurtful things. You husband, who was always kind and considerate, is now lying and stealing to support an addiction. You son, who was brilliant and driven, is now struggling with delusions and hallucinations.
These things do not change our love for the person – we still love our mom with dementia, our husband with an opiate addiction, our son with schizophrenia. But this continued love doesn’t change how deeply we miss the person they used to be, the person we lost. We may not feel like we have the same relationship with that person – 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. The child-parent relationship becomes confused when a child has to care for a parent. 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’ feelings may be sadness and yearning, anger and guilt, or a range 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 causes us to question our old memories. Or worse, they can start to consume our brains as those old memories begin to fade. Another 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 sort of loss, that can make you feel lonely and isolated. It can be a hard type of grief to open up about because we know others may not acknowledge it.