Lightning Talk

Impossible Tensions and Irresolvable Quandaries: Ambiguous Loss in the Time of COVID-19

Thursday, August 6, 2020, 2:30 pm - 3:30 pm EDT
Sample video
Lightning Talk Presentation

Every day, mounting COVID-19 deaths in the U. S. are publicly recorded and privately grieved. However, less visible losses are unaccounted for, including those of frontline workers caring for the sick and dying; the unexpectedly unemployed; people charged with making morally and ethically impossible decisions; and innumerable others vicariously witnessing the “cruel capriciousness” of the pandemic. In myriad ways we are connected to uncertain grief our lives changed forever, not knowing what will be the next "normal" that will disappear.


Ambiguous loss describes responses to losses that are unclear, externally caused, confusing and incomprehensible. According to Boss, “ambiguous loss often goes unnoticed, perhaps because it is ubiquitous.” Ambiguous loss upends perceptions of reality, defies the familiar, and violates one’s trust in reality. Most often associated with the impacts of dementia on family members, losses incurred when disabled veterans return home, and the events of 9/11, COVID-19 has unleashed a torrent of ambiguous losses affecting individuals, families, institutions, practitioners, and informal communities of care.


Recognizing and addressing ambiguous loss should be a health practice training priority as we contemplate how to mitigate the pandemic’s predictable effects on health and psychological functioning. This lightning talk will: 1) describe theories of ambiguous loss and its relevancy to managing health and avoiding burnout in the midst of the 2020 pandemic; 2) discuss barriers to acknowledging its impacts; and 3) offer guidelines to manage and build resilience during a time of unrelenting complicated losses that will resonate beyond the current crisis.


Boss, P. The Trauma and Complicated Grief of Ambiguous Loss. Pastoral Psychol 59, 137�"145 (2010).


This activity has been planned and implemented by the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education. In support of improving patient care, the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education is jointly accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) to provide continuing education for the healthcare team.

Physicians: The National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education designates this live activity for a maximum of 1.25 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™.

Physician Assistants: The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) accepts credit from organizations accredited by the ACCME.

Nurses: Participants will be awarded up to 1.25 contact hours of credit for attendance at this workshop.

Nurse Practitioners: The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP) accepts credit from organizations accredited by the ACCME and ANCC.

Pharmacists: This activity is approved for 1.25 contact hours (.125 CEU) UAN: JA4008105-0000-20-062-H04-P; JA4008105-0000-20-062-H04-T

Social Workers: As a Jointly Accredited Organization, the National Center is approved to offer social work continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program. Organizations, not individual courses, are approved under this program. State and provincial regulatory boards have the final authority to determine whether an individual course may be accepted for continuing education credit. The National Center maintains responsibility for this course. Social workers completing this course receive up to 1.25 continuing education credits.

IPCE: This activity was planned by and for the healthcare team, and learners will receive 1.25 Interprofessional Continuing Education (IPCE) credits for learning and change


In accordance with the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education’s Standards for Commercial Support, adopted by the Joint Accreditors for Interprofessional Continuing Education, the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education has a conflict of interest policy that requires that all individuals involved in the development of activity content disclose their relevant financial relationships with commercial interests. All potential conflicts of interest that arise based upon these financial relationships are resolved prior to the educational activity.

Lolita O’Donnell, LaDonna King, Barbara Anderson, Wendy Ward, Kathryn Neil, Diana McNeil, Shelley Cohen Konrad

declare no vested interest in or affiliation with any commercial interest offering financial support for this interprofessional continuing education activity, or any affiliation with a commercial interest whose philosophy could potentially bias their presentation.