Ambiguous Grief is Real

Coping with loss before it happens

Samantha Lazar
Published in
3 min readJan 16, 2020


Image by Richard Mcall from Pixabay

I am waiting for my father to die. There I said it.

I recently was introduced to this psychological phenomenon: Ambiguous Grief — the idea that you can grieve someone who is still alive. It is likened to a breakup, and I know I have grieved some of the worst ones, but grieving the pending loss of a family member, in this case, my father, is a different type of grief altogether.

It is dread. But it is more than that. It is a constant waiting. A strange kind of wanting that sounds horrible if I write it or say it out loud. It isn’t that I wish he was gone. I do still love him because he is my dad.

I have been waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop for 35 years. 35! Just waiting. I used to think I was waiting for my father to come back to himself. Waiting for him to return to me. Waiting for him to return to being my dad like he was before the big breakdown. I have waited for this man for a long time. Recently I am coming to terms with the fact that he is not what I am waiting for.

What I am waiting for is for him to die. He has seemed to have been at death’s door so many times, but this has always been a really vague story. His suicide attempts and tendencies, his strange relationships, his heart attack, and his declining health still have not hurt him enough for his life to be over. My knowledge of his life is that he has gone from one crisis to the next, but I never know exactly what is happening with him.

There is a sub-category of ambiguous grief:

Anticipatory Grief

I have been in a constant state of “anticipatory grief.”

Here is the thing about grief — though we think of it as something that happens after a death, it often begins long before death arrives. It can start as soon as we become aware that death is a likelihood. Once death is on the horizon, even just as a possibility, it is natural that we begin to grieve.

Litsa Williams

I understand death is imminent for our parents and for all of us. This is not what I mean. What I mean is, I have been in a holding pattern since I was 10. I have been kept at a long…



Samantha Lazar
Writer for

Poetry, fiction, and essays in celebration of being a lover of life.