What is Ambiguous Grief? – July 2021 Sanctuary Meeting

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This month, we re-visited the topic of ‘ambiguous grief’ and its impact on carers.  Joy Anasta originally introduced this topic to us in June.  She gave us all a great deal to think about, so the committee thought we should explore further some of the content she raised, such as Ambiguous Loss.  It was very useful to explore further together, this unique form of grief that we experience as carers of people with BPD.

You may have heard of Randi Kreger, author of The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder and Stop Walking on Eggshells.
In a happy co-incidence, Randi posted a helpful piece about ambiguous loss on 30 June, just in time for our meeting.  Here it is:

GRIEF: Parents of Borderline Children

from Stop Walking on Eggshells for Parents – available in December or January 2022
Excerpt taken from Randi Kreger’s facebook post on 30 June 2021

Parents whose child has died are comforted by family, friends, and their community, but parents grieving the many losses associated with having a mentally ill child do not get any flowers.  This grief is often not addressed by mental health professionals, either. As a result, you may not recognize your grief or allow yourself to process it. And that may make things worse.


One mother says “The stress and trauma is foremost in your mind. The brain has to deal with it, but the grief is buried deeper. It is a heavy, sinking feeling that floats around the edges of your thoughts. You try to ignore it and hope it goes away, but it is always there like a rock in your heart. The grief lies quietly in the background, popping up its head when you least expect it, like when you first wake up in the morning or you see other post about their child’s success on social media. But it gets better with time, and I will never lose faith!”


Parents grieve a number of things, but they fall into two categories: grief involving their child with BPD and grief involving themselves or other family member.



Grief for Their Child

  • Mourning the life they wanted for their child: “My child will probably never have a functional marriage and children. No prom, friends, or football games.”
  • For some, mourning the child they had before the disorder took effect: “What happened to the sweet little boy he was? I look at old photos and cry. I love him but now he is into drugs and hanging out with the wrong people.”
  • Mourning the fact that their child feels such pain. “I feel like she will never know true joy, happiness, or empathy for others. I would give anything to take that dark space away. I have no choice but to watch her suffer.”
  • Mourning their child’s lost potential. “He’s a great musician who could rival anyone. He wants to play concertos with all the great orchestras throughout the world.  But he’ll never go to Oberlin College. I’m dealing with it better, now, after coming to grips with the fact that no amount of distress will change things and readjusting expectations and helping him identify and work toward new goals.”

Grief For Themselves and Family

  • Mourning the everyday family life they wanted. “I grieve the ‘job’ I’ve done as mom. I had high hopes for our family. I hoped our two boys would be friends instead of one lashing out and violent and the other hiding out in his room. I will miss the moments of learning to drive and negotiating curfews, seeing his excitement and joy and making memories. I feel like we have lost him again and again, death without dying, pain without end, and unconditional love without reciprocity.”
  • Mourning the life they wanted for themselves: “I grieve that I can’t retire and travel the world with my husband. We expect our child will always be living with us.” Also, “This may sound selfish, but a lot of grieving has to do with the loss of my family, loss of my friends, my loss of peace. I am the collateral damage in her illness. But as others have said, it does get better over time although it is never really gone.”
  • Grieving the fact they’ll never have the kind of relationship they wanted and expected to have with their child, “I cried on and off for a year. Now I have accepted and embraced the relationship I have with her. It’s not what I expected it to be, but it still fills my heart.”

Dealing With Grief

Consider these tips for handling grief:

  • Get grief counseling: Many parents said this was valuable.
  • Naming that feeling (grief) and allowing yourself the time and space
  • to feel it helps.
  • Change your expectations and help your child work toward new goals
  • they can achieve.
  • Talk to trustworthy friends and family members, as well as other
  • parents of children with BPD in online support communities.
  • Advocate for children with BPD. Make a difference.
  • Don’t feel ashamed for your self-interested grief. It is perfectly OK to mourn your own losses as well as your child’s. Do not judge your own grief. That will make it worse.
  • Keep in mind that everyone grieves differently and there is no timetable. Be patient with yourself.
  • Know the signs of depression and get early treatment if it happens to you.
  • Take care of yourself.

Posted by Randi Kreger on facebook on 30 June 2021

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Photo by Tsuchiya from Unsplash

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