Ambiguous loss examples

What Ambiguous Loss Is and How To Deal With It – Cleveland Clinic

It’s been more than 40 years since family therapist Pauline Boss, PhD, first coined the term “ambiguous loss” and published her book by the same name.

In its simplest sense, “ambiguous loss” refers to loss without closure. And today, the term has never been more relevant, especially as we continue grappling with the many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives.

Psychologist Kia-Rai Prewitt, PhD, delves deeper into this concept, including its original meaning and how it’s especially applicable today.

What is ambiguous loss?

“Dr. Pauline Boss created this term to refer to a lack of information and closure that surrounds the loss of a loved one,” Dr. Prewitt says.

At its core, ambiguous loss is all about a lack of resolution — but Dr. Boss created categories to differentiate between physical and psychological loss.

Type-one ambiguous loss

Type-one deals with physical loss, like when you don’t know for sure whether someone you love has died or what has happened to them. Think, for example, of a parent whose child has been kidnapped or a person whose spouse has gone missing on military deployment.

Dr. Boss calls this category “physical absence with psychological presence,” a type of ambiguous loss that occurs when someone you love is physically absent under unknown, uncertain or unresolved circumstances.

Examples include loss as a result of:

  • Unexplained disappearances, like kidnapping.
  • War and acts of terrorism.
  • Deportation and genocide.
  • Natural disasters.

This type of ambiguous loss can also come from a loss of contact, even if you know where the person is or what has happened to them. This kind of ambiguous loss includes circumstances like:

  • Divorce.
  • Adoption.
  • Estrangement.
  • Incarceration.
  • Separation due to immigration.

“As an example, think about what happens after a divorce,” Dr. Prewitt says. “You know your ex-spouse still exists, but they are no longer in your life the way they used to be when you were married. That’s ambiguous loss, too.”

Another modern example is the trend toward ghosting — when someone you’re dating just stops responding and falls out of touch, leaving you without answers.

Type-two ambiguous loss

This type of ambiguous loss refers to a psychological loss, including a mental or emotional disappearance (like when someone’s personality has changed so much that they no longer seem like the person you once knew).

Dr. Boss describes it as “psychological absence with physical presence.” Your loved one is physically present, but they’ve changed, whether emotionally or cognitively (or both).

Examples include changes caused by:

  • Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
  • Traumatic brain injury.
  • Drug and/or alcohol addiction.
  • Depression or other chronic mental illness.

“A common example I see is when I work with couples,” Dr. Prewitt notes. “A spouse says they want the person their partner used to be, especially if that partner has a mental or physical illness or has experienced a traumatic event during the course of the relationship.

Why ambiguous loss is so hard to handle

​Usually, closure is an important piece of the complicated puzzle that is grief. It provides us with some way to process what’s happened. “We typically crave closure because our brains are wired to analyze information and our environment,” Dr. Prewitt explains.

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When someone dies of known causes, even when it’s sudden or particularly traumatic, we are, at least, able to comprehend that a loss has happened. Death is concrete — but ambiguous loss doesn’t offer any sense of closure.

This is especially true in the case of open-ended disappearances — say, if your child has run away from home or your partner is presumed dead after a hurricane. But there’s also no closure when a parent’s personality changes as a result of Alzheimer’s or when a friend’s mental illness makes them nearly unrecognizable to you.

“When we don’t have all the information, we lose our sense of control, and our thoughts fill in the blanks,” Dr. Prewitt says. “Those thoughts can be terrifying because there is nothing to confirm if what you’re thinking is right or wrong.”

How ambiguity impacts the grief process

“I see ambiguous loss as a type of complicated grief,” Dr. Prewitt says. “You’re often left longing for what used to be or for answers to questions.”

Grief looks different for everyone, and there’s no one “right” way to grieve. But it’s common to move through five stages of grief:

  1. Denial.
  2. Anger.
  3. Bargaining.
  4. Depression.
  5. Acceptance.

People who are grieving a loss go in and out of these stages of grief in no particular order — but when you’ve experienced an ambiguous loss, you may become stuck in any one stage. This is sometimes referred to as “frozen grief” or “grief limbo.”

“It can feel like an ongoing trauma because there is no answer,” Dr. Prewitt says.

And if you’re experiencing type-two ambiguous loss, other people may not even recognize that you’re grieving at all.

“Ambiguous losses can feel isolating because they can be ignored,” Dr. Prewitt says. “This makes it especially difficult for the person experiencing the loss.”

Ambiguous loss and the COVID-19 pandemic

Ambiguous loss has historically referred to individual loss — when a person has disappeared, left or somehow changed. Now, though, so many of us are experiencing loss, and it’s not always centered on a person.

“Everyone has lost something during the pandemic, whether they recognize it or not,” Dr. Prewitt says. “People lost access to social connections, jobs, childcare and being able to go places without doing a risk assessment first. A lot of couples’ relationships either withstood the stress of being together constantly, or their issues were exacerbated.”

In other words, things have changed. And if you wish things could go back to the way they used to be before the pandemic, you’re not alone.

“Humans crave consistency and predictability, so when things are unpredictable, such as the pandemic, we often feel anxious, depressed and isolated,” Dr. Prewitt says.

None of us got any closure on our old way of life before the pandemic forced us to transition into a stressful new one. It seems like this version of life is our new normal, but it’s understandable to experience grief for everything we’ve lost.

Other factors that contribute to ambiguous loss

It’s not just the pandemic, either. Researchers are also looking into how social and political conditions — like climate grief and the trauma of racial injustice — can lead to feelings of ambiguous loss, too.

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“For communities of color who identify with Black Americans like Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, there is a constant reminder that society views and treats them differently,” Dr. Prewitt says.

Tips for coping with ambiguous loss

If you’re experiencing ambiguous loss, here are some suggestions for dealing with the grief, stress and sadness that can accompany it.

1. Name what you’re going through

The kind of ambiguous loss brought on by the pandemic, in particular, can be a sneaky kind of loss. You might not even recognize your grief for what it is — but now you have a name for it. Sometimes, just being able to put a label on what you’re experiencing can help you begin healing.

2. Work toward acceptance

Acceptance isn’t the same as closure. But in the absence of closure, Dr. Prewitt says it’s important to try to make peace with this new reality.

“It takes work to accept that things are different and may never go back to the way they used to be,” she adds.

3. Reach out for support

Depending on the circumstances of your loss, other people in your life might not realize that you’re struggling, which can be especially isolating. Dr. Prewitt recommends identifying and connecting with family or a close friend who can help support you. And especially in pandemic times, you may be surprised to learn that they’re having similar experiences. 

You can also look for a support group for people who’ve experienced the kind of loss you have.

4. Look for silver linings

Without veering into toxic positivity territory, try seeing some of the good within the bad. What has come your way — like new friendships or personal growth — that wouldn’t have if your life had stayed the same?  

“It can feel overwhelming and disheartening to know that things won’t go back to the way they were,” Dr. Prewitt says, “but it can also be an opportunity to create new meaning for yourself or with others.”

5. Get involved in a cause

“Some people cope with loss through action, like joining organizations focused on different issues that have personal meaning,” Dr. Prewitt says.

And if you choose to get involved with an organization related to the sort of loss you’ve experienced — say, an Alzheimer’s charity if your loved one has dementia, or a relief organization if you’ve lost someone to a natural disaster — you may also end up connecting with other people who’ve been where you are.

6. Be kind to yourself

Try giving yourself grace and gentleness as you work through your grief. “This is a time for self-compassion,” Dr. Prewitt encourages. “Be kind to yourself when you’re struggling with difficult emotions, the same way you would provide compassion to someone else if they were experiencing what you are.”

When to ask for help

If you find that you’re having trouble coping, look for a therapist who can help you work through your pain. It may be best to search for a therapist who specializes in grief or who has training in the particular type of loss you’re experiencing. But you don’t have to deal with ambiguous loss on your own.

Ambiguous Loss Explained: Examples & How It Works

When you've lost a loved one or suffered trauma and there's no closure or explanation on why it happened, you might feel like you’re grieving forever. Without answers, you're left in a state of confusion and begin seeking other ways to explain your loss.

Jump ahead to these sections:
  • What Is Ambiguous Loss?
  • Where Does Ambiguous Loss Theory Come From?
  • What Does Ambiguous Loss Look or Feel Like?
  • Stages of Ambiguous Grief or Loss
  • How to Help a Loved One Through Ambiguous Loss
  • How Ambiguous Loss and Having a Loved One With Alzheimer’s Works
  • How Ambiguous Loss and the COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Examples of Ambiguous Loss

This type of grief, which seemingly has no end or conclusion to wrap your head around is called ambiguous loss. You're dealing with two potential types of losses — the physical loss of your loved one, and a psychological loss. 

You may experience a psychological loss when your loved one is still present but may suffer from diminished mental capacity.

For example, those suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's may be physically there, but are unable to recognize you. As your loved one suffers from a cognitive decline, it may take longer for you to come to terms with your grief. While you recognize that they’re still alive, you may not know how to make sense of the loss that you’re feeling. 

Working on ambiguous loss can be different than dealing with other forms of grief, but can be managed.

What Is Ambiguous Loss? 

This type of loss is steeped in the unknown, as defined by the word ambiguous in this case. Not knowing what has happened to your loved one, not knowing what comes next, or not knowing whether you should be grieving or holding out hope.

With ambiguous loss, you will need to build strength and resiliency in order to lower your stress and anxiety associated with this not knowing. This feeling of ambiguity happens because you’re suddenly thrown into a situation where you have no control over what happens next. 

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Grieving while someone is still alive

It’s completely possible and common to grieve for someone while they’re still alive. You may experience grief over the loss associated with your loved one’s mental and cognitive decline, as they suffer through addiction, or as they battle a life-threatening illness.

How to console someone during this time takes on special challenges as they’re still living but may not understand what is happening to them. At the same time, you’re also in the unique position of trying to come to terms with processing what you are feeling. 

What’s the difference between anticipatory grief and ambiguous loss?

At times, ambiguous loss can be confused with anticipatory grief, another type of grieving that may involve different circumstances.

The grief experienced in anticipation of death or some other life-altering event is known as anticipatory grief.

This type of grief is not necessarily only the result of anticipating the death of your loved one, but can also be felt over the loss of your career, income, home, relationship, or any other significant loss in your life. Other things that may cause grief are the fear of what's next, loss of companionship, and a change in finances.

Anticipatory grief differs from the grief you experience after someone you love dies. In some instances, it can cause you to react more violently. You may experience strong emotions such as anger, fear, and anxiety. You may also experience a loss of emotional control that comes with the expression of these emotions.

This type of grief can create confusion for you as you struggle with keeping hope and letting go of your loved one.

Ambiguous loss occurs when you suffer a loss that you're unable to process. It's a loss that's felt when you're left confused about what has happened or why it's happened.

It can leave you in this perpetual state of confusion without you knowing whether to accept the loss, what to do with it, or what position it leaves you in as a result of it. It's difficult to move forward with the stages of grief when you can't even wrap your thoughts around what is happening.

Where Does Ambiguous Loss Theory Come From?

American researcher, Pauline Boss, was the first to coin the term "ambiguous loss" in the late 1970s. She was studying the effects of grief-related loss on the families of war soldiers who disappeared or went missing in action. She began her life in the United States as a member of an immigrant family who suffered the loss of their country and family ties.

Her family lived in a neighborhood made up of predominantly immigrant families who all experienced the loss of close friends, relatives, and community. However, because almost everyone had some experience with this type of loss, there was plenty of community support. Nevertheless, these losses were a part of their new everyday life and existence. Mostly, everyone adjusted well to their changing environment, relying on their psychological families to quell the pain of losing their blood relatives, and families.

Boss went on to become a therapist and researcher in grief and loss. Her findings revealed that as individuals experience the loss of relationships, the ambiguity of these losses makes the experience profoundly devastating. This is because their grief is unclear and indeterminate. At first, she related this type of loss to boundary ambiguity. Still, she later changed the term to "ambiguous loss" to more closely describe the feelings of grief in two specific situations:

  1. When loved ones are physically absent but psychologically present when it's unclear if they're living or dead. 
  2. When a person is physically present but psychologically absent in cases of illness, addiction, or disease. 

These losses are never clear-cut, such as when a person dies. And the ambiguous nature of the loss creates abnormal grief that can be complicated and prolonged. The ambiguous loss theory has evolved since the 1970s, especially after 9/11, with thousands of lives lost in terror-related attacks and the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings.

Families of those missing in the rubble or otherwise unaccounted for experienced a different type of ambiguous loss than those families of missing soldiers of war. Modern-day researchers are pushing for further studies on how this loss applies in other scenarios, adding more diversity to the meaning and description of ambiguous loss. 

What Does Ambiguous Loss Look or Feel Like?

Two types of ambiguous loss may affect grieving individuals. One is the type that has a physical absence accompanied by a psychological presence. And the other is where there's a psychological absence but a physical presence. 

The first type might include a situation when a person's gone missing or the body wasn't recoverable at the time of death. Some traumatic examples of this are kidnappings, murders where the body's been hidden, dying in a foreign war, or drowning in the ocean. More everyday occurrences typically include non-death-related losses such as divorce, adoption, and moving to a foreign land.

The second type of loss occurs when a loved one is physically present but isn't psychologically there. Examples of this might include a person who's suffered through cognitive declines, such as Alzheimer's patients or those who have dementia. 

Emotional unavailability also adds to this type of loss. A person who's emotionally detached from their loved ones may be suffering from addiction, depression, or even physical brain injuries.

There are always at least two different perspectives when it comes to recognizing ambiguous loss. One comes from the person suffering from illness or injury in those physically present but psychologically unavailable to carry on as before. And the other stems from those who are dealing with the factors contributing to this type of loss. 

Other factors to consider are the death of a loved one, where it's impossible to gain closure either because the facts surrounding the death are missing, or the body's physical recovery was impossible due to situations beyond the family's control or authorities.

Persons trying to cope with ambiguous grief or loss may feel anxious, depressed, socially withdrawn, and hopeless depending on what they're suffering through. It's not unusual for a person to socially remove from their life, friends, and family while dealing with this type of loss. In many cases, a grieving person may find it challenging to return to their old lives until they've had some resolution to their loss. 

Stages of Ambiguous Grief or Loss

How we grieve when we suffer the death of a loved one, and the way we grieve when we have suffered an ambiguous loss differs in that with one we have closure, and in the other, we're still trying to cope with understanding what has happened.

No two people grieve the same, and no two losses are suffered in the same way. Because of this, it's important to explore how we grieve, and how the stages of grief progress from one to the next. 

With ambiguous grief or loss, these linear stages don’t apply to the way you grieve. The stages of grief become more like steps you should take to help you cope with your loss. There are eight things to consider as you go through your grief journey:

Stage 1: Regaining resilience

Making sense of what has happened is one of the biggest challenges as you begin to process your grief.

When your loved one is still physically present, but no longer the same person you remember before, or your loved one is missing, and you don’t know what has happened to them, it’s difficult for you to move forward with your grief. So, having a high tolerance for ambiguity and learning to live with not having closure becomes important in coming to terms with your grief.

Stage 2: Reaching out to others

In trying to find meaning and learning to cope with your loss, it’s important to keep moving forward with dealing with your grief.

Finding comfort in your continued relationships with others will help you establish a new normal way of living. Joining a support group is also something to consider. Being able to talk to others who are in similar situations may be helpful to you in understanding how you are feeling. 

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Stage 3: Practicing self-care

Taking care of yourself is also very important in dealing with your grief. Self-care includes getting proper rest and nutrition, finding the time to exercise, taking care of your personal hygiene and mental health, among other things such as learning about what you are going through by reading books on grief.

Stage 4: Practicing mindfulness

Being mindful means being present and accepting things as they are right now. This higher awareness leads to peacefulness and a sense of calm that will help you in coping during stressful times.

Mindfulness works because it forces you to let go of the past and it relieves you of the pressure and anxiety caused when you think about what will help you in the future.

Stage 5: Accepting and letting go

Accepting things as they are may be difficult to imagine as a possibility. It’s understandable if you aren’t able to immediately find contentment and peace with things as they are. However, the more you focus on practicing self-care and mindfulness, you will find it easier to accept that there may not be any answers to the loss you’ve suffered and that it’s okay if you never know.

Sometimes you don’t have control over the way things are, and you gradually learn to let go by not holding on to the possibilities of what could have been or what you could’ve done differently.

Stage 6: Sharing in memories

As time progresses, you may consider incorporating grief rituals like sharing in memories from the past and learning to make new memories in your current reality.

Consider pulling out photo albums and sharing pictures and memories attached to them with your family and friends. Take new pictures of those in your life right now and remember to live your life instead of being suspended in uncertainty. 

Stage 7: Mastering what’s in your control

A great way to manage all the uncertainty in your life is to master the things that you are able to control. For example, keeping a clean living environment and cooking healthy meals will help you to recenter your focus on things that you already know you can do. It takes the pressure off of having to learn new things or new ways of living.

These simple steps can make you feel as if you’re in control and will alleviate some of the stress and anxiety you might be experiencing.

Stage 8: Making new memories

This step goes beyond just taking new photographs to add to your photo album. This is more aligned with you going out and actively forming new memories of your life now without your loved one in it.

As difficult as it may seem for you to accept their loss, it’s important for you to continue living your life and moving forward. Take small steps in this direction until you build the confidence to take larger, more meaningful steps in accepting your new reality. 

How to Help a Loved One Through Ambiguous Loss

Helping someone you love get through this challenging time will take patience and understanding. Because there are so many unknowns with this type of loss, a person suffering may not readily accept words of comfort or attempts to appease the situation. 

It helps to understand that their feelings and emotions stem from not knowing what'll happen or what to expect next. They may suffer from the anxiety created by helplessness and inadequacy, causing them to shut down emotionally. The following are some tips to help you help your loved one survive through ambiguous loss.

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Gather all the facts

One of the best ways to help someone suffering through ambiguous loss is to help them get down to the basics of what has happened and why it's happened. Even when there aren't any definite answers, such as when a person's gone missing, it helps when you gather everything that's known.  

You can then repeatedly present the information to your loved ones until it starts to reassure them that things are getting done to either find their loved one or get answers as to what's happened.

Talk about their loved one

People suffering from ambiguous loss may need to make sense of things by talking about their suffering. They may want to discuss the same things repeatedly to justify what's happened. This pattern of behavior is common among bereaved individuals who don't know all the facts or details surrounding their loved one's death or illness.

You don't have to have any of the answers when talking to your loved one. And, sometimes, it's best to refrain from giving personal opinions or reaching conclusions. 

Encourage counseling

Many people who are grieving through ambiguous loss don't consider the positive effect of grief counseling or therapy as a means to get through this challenging time. For some people, the thought of getting help may not even cross their minds because they're preoccupied with all the things that encompass their loved one's illness or death.  

An experienced, professional grief counselor or therapist can help your loved one process their grief to remain functional in their everyday lives, especially when there are no answers or explanations that will resolve any time soon.

Keep tabs on them

Depression is relatively common among those suffering from ambiguous loss, and sometimes it's challenging to recognize the signs. A person suffering from many of the unknowns related to their loved one’s death or illness will likely find it difficult to keep from falling into deep despair the longer it takes to get the answers they need for clarity. 

Consider checking in on them throughout the day to say hello and to see how they're doing. A quick text message or phone call can make a big difference in the life of someone who feels hopeless.

How Ambiguous Loss and Having a Loved One With Alzheimer’s Works

Mental health professionals perceive persons with Alzheimer's disease as physically present but otherwise psychologically absent when treating ambiguous loss in their loved ones. There's a gray area that families of those with Alzheimer's must learn to navigate. They must create new realities to cope with the stress of losing their loved ones to this disease but who are still living.

Families of people with Alzheimer's have to deal with high levels of uncertainty and ambiguity when assessing their changing family dynamic and the roles each person fills. In families without these defined roles, coping and managing the stress of Alzheimer's increases, making it more challenging to navigate living with someone suffering from this disease. Individual caregivers face heightened stress, anxiety, and depression. This is especially true when they fail to assess how Alzheimer's affects their loved ones and the family dealing with this type of loss.  

The uncertainty of Alzheimer's leads to a type of loss known as "boundary ambiguity." Boundary ambiguity closely relates to the causes of depression in caregivers and other non-caretaking family members because it creates confusion about who remains a part of the family and in what role or capacity.

These unclear losses cause a shift in how family members interact with one another. It also affects the roles family members assume when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Families must also adjust their lives to include the person with Alzheimer's. 

You can expect unclear losses when a family member faces cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's. Families not only shift their dynamics by reassigning roles but also learn to adapt to their loved ones changing mental, emotional, and social capacities. Alzheimer's creates many complex changes in how the brain works. It slowly robs individuals of the ability to think, function, and reason. When these capacities start diminishing, the person you once knew is no longer there even though they still live. 

You can expect to mourn this loss and the subsequent or secondary losses attached to changes in your loved one's physical and cognitive abilities. The stages of grief start manifesting well before their physical death, leaving the family to deal with the pain and sorrow of watching their loved one deteriorate. Some of the more common ways of experiencing grief include feelings of:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Guilt 
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

When dealing with the symptoms of boundary ambiguity, it may be time to hold a family meeting to discuss everyone's roles and responsibilities. Families can learn to better support each other and the individual with Alzheimer's. The disease's progression is unpredictable, and a person with Alzheimer's may live many more years in a slowly diminishing cognitive state. It's essential to plan for contingencies as their condition evolves.

Plan out how you'll manage the day-to-day caregiving responsibilities and who'll step in and take over to give the primary caregiver respite from their duties. You should also talk about everyone's feelings and expectations regarding holidays, family traditions, and other important rituals to continue. 

Some of you may have to step outside your traditional roles when taking on the primary caregiver role to more effectively and emotionally separate yourself from your loved one with Alzheimer's while providing them care. Your loved one's behavior and disposition may dramatically change as their conditions worsen, and they may become easily agitated, aggressive, or hyper-sexualized. Setting and maintaining boundaries should help you deal with these painful and confusing outbursts.

How Ambiguous Loss and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ambiguous loss related to the COVID-19 pandemic is still a relatively new concept as we continue to learn the long-term effects COVID-19-related deaths and losses have on survivors. Families of individuals gravely impacted by this illness are still learning to process their pain and suffering. 

The pandemic created unforeseen circumstances and instances of death and subsequent losses for millions worldwide. Here in our backyard, COVID-19 illnesses claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals and disrupted countless others' lives. 

Early in the initial wave of illnesses to hit the U.S., the government separated sickened individuals from their loved ones through forced quarantining. Many hospitalized individuals weren't allowed to have visitors, and many died alone and afraid in hospital COVID wards or the ICU. Their survivors dealt with the pain of grief and loss without the benefit of saying goodbye to their dying loved ones and without the opportunity to gain closure. 

Pandemic-caused deaths created voids in the lives of the survivors' families, resembling the ambiguous loss suffered by the families of missing wartime soldiers and victims of the 9/11 terror attacks. The psychological effects on these individuals create grief responses that show up as physical and emotional manifestations of loss and suffering found in the different stages of grief. 

Collective grief has settled in our nation as we move through the pandemic together. Telling and recounting our stories of love and loss to those we know and virtual strangers we meet on the internet. There is a solidarity in grief that has emerged due to the very public handling of Pandemic-related cases of infection and death rates. Almost everyone in the U.S. has dealt with COVID-19 directly or knows someone who has.

People across the country had to leave their jobs, abandon their studies, or cancel their plans to stay home as required by their local governments. These unforeseen changes created many secondary losses impacting the health and mental well-being of individuals of all ages, races, and economic standing. COVID-19 is non-discriminatory, and many well-known, rich and famous people died due to their battle with COVID-19.

We are still learning to deal with these losses. The continuation of new and emerging cases continues to impact more and more people with no complete end in sight. Doctors and other mental health practitioners trained to deal with the psychological effects of loss work tirelessly to provide counseling and therapy to those struggling with their losses. 

And the losses are many. Even when individuals and families haven't experienced direct loss from illness, they've seen other considerable losses. This includes economic loss, food insecurity, separation from friends and loved ones, and loss of freedom of movement and travel. 

Some of these losses still lack clarity, and their full impact may not show up until years after the event. We've yet to see the full effect of how young children and teens will recover from their experiences. We're unsure how their futures have changed due to the pandemic's new ways of living, working, and socializing. For now, individuals must continue to find ways of surviving through these changing times until the world gets back to a new normal after this horrific event.

Examples of Ambiguous Loss

Some examples of ambiguous loss include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Alzheimer’s disease: Losing someone to disease is difficult to accept. It’s as if you’re in limbo - they are still physically here with you, but their cognition has so far declined that the person in front of you is no longer the person you remember.  
  • Drug addiction: Losing a loved one to drug addiction is another form of loss that may leave you feeling helpless, confused, and conflicted. Addiction typically causes your relationships to rupture. Sometimes this loss is temporary, and sometimes it creates alienation and a permanent cutoff to your loved one. 
  • Missing person: When a loved one has gone missing, you are suspended in your grief. Not knowing what has become of your loved one leaves you confused as to what to do next. You don’t know if they are dead or alive, and as a result, you don’t know how to react and process what you’re feeling. 

Dealing With Ambiguous Loss

Moving forward with life when you’re faced with the unknown is still possible when you consider that most of us have already dealt with this type of loss throughout our lives.

We experience ambiguity after a divorce, when we move from one city to another, or even when we change jobs. When you look at things this way, you begin to realize just how resilient you are and how coping through this loss can be managed.

7+1 Types of Waste in Lean Manufacturing / Sudo Null IT News

The main enemy of lean manufacturing is waste - activities that consume both time and material resources, but which do not add value to the product or service for the consumer. Losses in Japanese sound like "Muda", and in English "Waste".

Value is created by the manufacturer and determined by the consumer.

If we depict the losses in a diagram, we can see that in any process the value occupies the smallest part, everything else is a different type of loss, which are of the first and second kind. nine0005

Losses of the 1st kind are actions that do not create value, but which cannot be avoided. For example, transportation, paperwork. They cannot be removed from the process, but it is necessary to strive to reduce them.

But losses of the 2nd kind are actions that do not create value at all, and they can and should be completely excluded from the process. For example, waiting, stocks, marriage, etc.

Losses can be found in any process, whether it is production, the provision of various services or healthcare. In order to eliminate these losses, it is necessary to be able to recognize them and know how to deal with them. nine0005

In the classical theory of lean production, 7 types of waste were identified:

  1. Overproduction
  2. Waiting
  3. Stocks
  4. Extra transport
  5. Unnecessary movement of people
  6. Marriage
  7. Over-processing

In the future, improving the theory, the researchers supplemented the initial list with another type of loss:

  1. Unused human potential

Let's take a closer look at each type of loss:


The most common and entailing other types of losses, when more products and services are provided than is necessary or more than the consumer can buy.

Causes: Production in large batches, lack of knowledge of demand, lack of quick changeover.

Example: production of a large number of products, making extra copies of documents, reports, long and regular meetings or meetings. nine0005


Losses associated with waiting for resources by personnel, the next technological operation, this type of loss also includes equipment downtime during uneven loading, lack of necessary materials.

Causes of occurrence: Violation in the logistics system of production, equipment breakdown, lack of instructions from management, lack of planning.

Example: Equipment downtime at a certain stage until processing at the previous stage is completed, waiting for an employee to be instructed to perform this or that work. nine0005


This type of waste consists in the acquisition and storage of excess volumes of materials that are not yet needed. Excess inventory freezes money. With this type of loss, problems of production planning and uneven processes are revealed.

Causes of occurrence: uneven production, demand for products is not taken into account, which leads to excessive stocks of finished products, poorly established relationships with suppliers of materials. nine0005

Example: storage of a large amount of materials, which is necessary for production within six months, while not taking into account the cost of maintaining the warehouse, the production of Christmas tree decorations in excess of seasonal demand, as a result of which there is an overpacking of the warehouse, leading to an increase in costs.

Excess transport

Losses resulting from the movement of materials or goods between departments that do not add value to the final product or service. nine0005

Causes: irrational use of production space, unnecessary intermediate storage areas, inconvenient placement of equipment.

Example: Parts warehouse and production located at a greater distance from each other.

Unnecessary movement of people

Losses arising in the process of irrational organization of the workplace, unnecessary movement of personnel or random organization of workplaces.

Causes: irrational workspace organization, lack of work standards, lack of visualization, violation of labor discipline.

Example: search for the necessary tool for work throughout the site, ignorance of the areas of responsibility by employees, as a result of walking and finding out who should perform this or that operation, lack of visual standards that facilitate the search for the necessary tools and materials.


This type of waste occurs in the process of releasing a product or service that does not meet the requirements of the customer, which entails their alteration, the use of extra resources and time costs.

Causes of occurrence: lack of proper control at different stages of the production process, not using the built-in "Protection from the Fool" (Poka-yoke), inconsistency of the employee's qualifications with the functions performed or problems with the equipment.

Example: If equipment failure is detected late, a number of defective products are produced, an unskilled worker made incorrect calculations in the report.


These are losses that arise as a result of the production of products or the provision of services with those qualities that the consumer does not need, and he is not ready to pay for them.

Causes: unexplored demand or lack of incoming information.

Example: TV remote control with a set of additional functions that the consumer does not need, making many copies of documents when only one is needed.

Unused human potential

Unused or unrealized human potential is the exclusion of personal qualities, knowledge, skills and abilities of an employee from his work. The loss of unrealized human potential most often occurs when an employee is expected to perform exceptional routine operations, the manager does not listen to his subordinates, if any activity is strictly regulated by internal standards, rules or job responsibilities. nine0005

Causes: inefficiently built system of motivation, competition among staff, excessive control by management, lack of motivation for showing initiative.

Example: performance by an employee of non-core tasks, performance by an employee of tasks for several employees, as well as training an employee that he will not need to work at all or in the near future.

Three "M"

Beyond concept "Muda" , in Japanese management there are still such concepts as "Mura" and "Muri".

Mura is uneven. With uneven demand, queues are formed, the execution time increases. Additional materials and inventory required to meet peak demand. Working in emergency mode tires people and reduces their efficiency and quality of work.

Muri is an overload of people or equipment. We push machines or people to their limits. Overloading people threatens their safety and causes quality problems. Overloading equipment leads to accidents and defects. nine0005

These three "M" are a single system.

As a rule, the root of the problem is the Mura, since unevenness leads to an overload of the Muri, which in turn generates many other losses.

In this system, it is possible to distinguish the effective and inefficient state of the process.
If there is one or all losses in the process, then the process is inefficient. The ideal state of the process to which one must aspire is the absence of Muda, Mura and Muri, since by getting rid of them, we can concentrate on the most important, on values ​​ .

Losses of machine time and proper monitoring of CNC machines

Losses of machine time that occur at the stages of planning, organization of production, selection of tools and equipment, preparation of the technological process of a machine-building enterprise, as well as causes associated with the activities of personnel are identified. Examples from real objects are given. Eliminate the loss of time allows the use of a monitoring system for machine tools and integrated automation of the enterprise. Key words: loss of computer time, monitoring system, CNC machines. nine0005

Machine monitoring is a promising topic for discussion. Already today, many enterprises have installed monitoring systems at pilot production sites. Large enterprises often use not one, but several systems for collecting and processing machine data in an attempt to form an optimal plan for loading and managing the machine park. In the conditions of Industrial 4.0, most business leaders understand the importance of collecting and analyzing reliable information, and, consequently, the importance of connecting production equipment to a single corporate network [1, 2]. nine0005

The goals of implementing industrial equipment monitoring systems in most cases are to prevent the loss of machine time associated with downtime caused by suboptimal planning, maintenance, breakdowns, etc. Very often, plant managers associate the loss of machine time with the activities of personnel. However, the inspection of the enterprise reveals many other reasons that led to equipment downtime.

Let's look at the main causes of wasted machine time and show production managers that negligence and sabotage in most cases are not the main cause of equipment downtime. In the conditions of a machine-building enterprise, there are many other reasons for the loss of machine time at all stages of the life cycle of an enterprise and a manufactured product. nine0005

Design and construction of the workshop

Some of these problems can be introduced at the stage of design and construction of the workshop.

Supply network instability , for example, when the power of new equipment is increased, the old supply network cannot cope with the load, and this leads to failures in the operation of expensive equipment.

Unstable temperature conditions of the workshop — an insufficiently warm or poorly cooled room leads to productivity losses, in particular, due to an increase in the number of defective parts, including due to the frequent failure of technological equipment. nine0005

Incorrect installation of the machine leads to a decrease in the quality of the final product, as a poorly installed machine vibrates strongly, which can lead to rejects.

The purchase of obsolete or simplified CNC equipment will allow you to win some money when buying a machine, but will multiply the losses many times over during the life cycle of the equipment, including due to its less productive operation.

Lack or lack of automatic tool changer slows down the machine, especially when machining that requires frequent tool changes.

Non-scheduled maintenance (MS) always affects the performance of the equipment for the worse if maintenance is performed too often or too infrequently.

Poor maintenance preparation can result in a two-day maintenance machine being down for two weeks. nine0005

Poor logistics of intra-shop movements has a significant impact on productivity. This also includes poor access to equipment for installing workpieces, tooling and tools.

And most importantly, innovations should be implemented in a comprehensive manner - the acquisition of new equipment should be linked to the modernization of related services, labor organization methods and the entire management system.

Production planning

There are time wasters at the production planning stage. nine0005

Sub-optimal batch size: Small batches lead to frequent changeovers. Changeover is a reduction in useful machine time.

Insufficient stock of tools - The machine may be idle until the correct cutter is delivered/available.

Ambiguous instructions to the operator. While the operator finds out: from what, how, where, from where, why - the machine is idle. nine0005

Wrong choice of equipment type can lead to significant loss of machine time. For example: running jobs with a large amount of material removed, scheduled on a machine with insufficient power and/or rigidity, or assigning coarse operations to precision machines.

Ambiguous instructions to the operator. While the operator finds out: from what, how, where, where, why - the machine is idle.

Incorrect choice of equipment type can lead to significant loss of machine time. For example: running jobs with a large amount of material removed, scheduled on a machine with insufficient power and/or rigidity, or assigning rough operations to precision machines.

Preparation of product processing

The next group of losses occurs at the stage of product processing preparation.

Waiting for a task is a very common cause of downtime, the enterprise and the operator (with piecework pay) are paying for the inefficient organization of operational planning. nine0005

Inconsiderate control operations: while the operator is measuring and interpreting the measurements the machine is idle.

Excessive repositioning of leads to an increase in the machining time of the part. Appears in the event that the technologist could not design the process with the minimum required number of workpiece reinstallations and tool changes.

Undocumented changeover process - any ambiguity in the sequence of steps causes wasted time or errors. nine0005

Technological errors affect the duration of the processing of parts. For example, drilling after hardening causes loss of machine time and greater tool wear.

MRO contributes to unjustified losses. Setting up the machine, performed poorly or in a hurry, leads to the loss of machine time when processing each part. Unscheduled maintenance and poor preparation of maintenance always affect the performance of equipment for the worse if maintenance is not planned correctly or is not carried out optimally. nine0005

1 presents the results of a survey of some machine-building production, which revealed temporary losses that arose at the stage of developing the technological process.

Selection of a tool takes a lot of time if it is not described and done in advance. Waiting for a tool is a waste of time when there is not enough stock of a tool or careless accounting. (Waiting for the currently needed tool to become free or locate it.) Waiting for workpieces and/or tooling delays the start of work. nine0005

Selecting a tool takes a lot of time if it is not described and done in advance.

Waiting for a tool - time wasted due to insufficient stock of tools or careless accounting. (Waiting for the currently needed tool to become free or locate it.)

Waiting for blanks and/or tooling delays the start of work.

Tool condition and poor use

Another large group of machine time losses associated with the development of the technological process, including the preparation and selection of tools, modes of its use.

Defective tool is an unusable tool, the replacement of which leads to loss of machine time.

Worn tool. Working with a blunt tool requires a reduction in cutting data or leads to rejects (often tool wear is visually determined by the operator). nine0005

The lack of a library of 3D models of the tool leads to its multiple measurements, which entails the loss of machine time and errors in the development of the control program.

Lack of tool parameter library wastes time when setting up new tools or modifying them.

Tactics when purchasing a cheap tool will allow you to win some money when buying a tool, but will damage its quality. nine0005

Failure to use online tool control systems, machine control systems for vibration, power, etc. - unnoticed damage to the tool in time leads to marriage and loss of time.

Working with the control program can also lead to downtime:

  • slow loading of the control program - the operator is forced to seek help from technologists, which leads to loss of working time.
  • nine0023 Frequent loading and adjustment of tool parameters are the cause of an incorrectly designed process. On fig. 2 presented

Downtime caused by personnel

The machine operator, often cited as the main downtime culprit, is actually guilty of five things:

  • lack of qualifications is one of the main reasons for the loss of working time. The operator must continuously improve their skills and undergo certification. nine0024
  • operator feeling unwell. Uncomfortable working and rest conditions, poor psychological climate in the team lead to inefficient work of the operator. You also need to take into account the psychological state of the employee: one easily copes with large batches of simple parts, the other with small batches of complex ones;
  • negligence - dishonest attitude to work. Control and quick response to deviations in work will minimize the damage from a negligent employee; nine0024
  • weak motivation of the operator for high-performance work with maximum preservation of the machine and tools. Fundamentals of weak motivation: unworthy working conditions and low pay;
  • sabotage - intentional failure to perform one's duties or negligent attitude towards them negatively affects the production process and leads to loss of working time. A fair attitude towards the staff and the employee's fear of losing their job in most cases will help solve this problem. nine0024

But usually a machine operator is a professional who has consciously chosen a profession, who has undergone complex training, who comes to work not only to work and earn money, but also to enjoy what he has done.

Organizational measures

Neglect of trifles is a source of major troubles. More often, the sum of indirect causes affects the result more than the parameters of the main technological process.

Deviation operation - the most important cause of loss of time, efficiency and quality.

It was the suppression of the causes of marriage in the bud that grew the famous German quality. Everything was so bad that Kaiser decided to personally vouch for the quality of the German goods presented by German manufacturers at English exhibitions. A century later, andon, a Japanese cord that gives the performer the ability to stop work when a defect is discovered, propelled Japan into the world's leading position. Korea has gone the same way. It is quality as the main source of efficiency that is now a priority for leading Chinese companies. nine0005

Preventive analysis is aimed at preventing the occurrence of an unfavorable state of the controlled object. It should become the main paradigm of management.

Staff absences from the workplace lead to a decrease in efficiency and loss of working time. The enterprise must be impregnated with the understanding that: People come to work to work. Estimated deviations of the production process should be considered in the context of: Who makes the decision? How quickly do they find out about emerging problems? What should be done to eliminate them? How can this decision be quickly and unambiguously communicated to the performers? How to control the correct understanding and precise execution? nine0005

Lack of technological transitions and suboptimal logistics lead to violation of rational methods of material flow management and loss of working time. However, many enterprises do not have logistic maps for the intra-shop and inter-shop movement of parts.

Waiting for guidance chronic illness in most production systems with more than one worker leads to inefficient work organization. In Russia, the ability to make a decision on their own, even when going beyond their competence, often without notifying the management, is considered a great advantage of an employee. nine0005

An uncomfortable environment hinders the productive work of the entire team and the development of each of its members. People are the main element and the main capital of a manufacturing enterprise. Improper working conditions significantly reduce productivity.

Pseudo-economy results in loss of equipment performance. I've watched precision equipment wait for the "broom" to be released, and cheap lubricants have ruined generations of mechanisms, etc.

The reasons for the loss of machine time in the conditions of a machine-building enterprise can be different, and it is important to analyze them in time. Monitoring systems for the operation of the machine transmit the collected information to the top-level control systems MES, ERP, PLM, which are tasked with determining the causes of the loss of "machine time" and reducing the negative impact of the identified effects.

For the process engineer, there are differences in the interpretation of the definition of machine time, and it would be more correct to talk about the reasons for the increase in the calculation time for the operation or total time. nine0005

Some of the reasons listed directly affect the efficiency of equipment use, some affect indirectly.

Examples of problems encountered in machine-building enterprises

Let's look at a few specific examples illustrating examples of using a machine monitoring system.

Example 1. When the machines were connected to the machine data analysis system, the machine performance was analyzed. It turned out that the worker with the highest quality of work provided himself with a bonus by lowering spoiled workpieces into chips. Losses of material spread throughout the workshop and were not noticeable in the total mass. nine0005

Example 2. The employee, taking into account the time wage, underestimated the feed on the machine. The control program was executed longer, allowing to reduce the workload on the staff. The security service, controlling, according to the regulations, the production through video surveillance, did not detect deviations, observing the machine in operation and the “green traffic light”. The company was losing productivity. A properly configured machine data analysis system diagnosed the situation as "Sabotage". nine0005

Example 3. The employee, on his own initiative, increased the feed on the machine to 150%. This allowed them to complete the plan faster and sleep on the night shift or compensate for miscalculations in work without bringing them to management. Expensive equipment often failed. Management made claims against equipment suppliers. At the initiative of the machine tool manufacturer, a monitoring system was installed and messages were set up for the chief mechanic about the machine entering critical operating modes. After the measures taken, the equipment no longer failed, requiring only scheduled maintenance. nine0005

Example 4. At the tooling manufacturing site, the technologists transferred the completion of molds to experienced machine operators, who corrected the control program on the machine, made the tooling and transferred it to production. As the molds wore out, it was necessary to make a duplicate, but the control program by that time, as a rule, was lost. The correct organization of the library of control programs from the technologist with the possibility of "pumping out" the actually executable code made it possible to save the reference control program and repeat the tooling without significant costs. nine0005

Example 5. While constructing a critical aircraft part, the design and engineering departments performed development in complex CAD/CAM systems, performed test calculations and computer simulation of processing, taking into account the properties of the material, equipment and tool. The manufacturing technology was approved by the chief designer and technologist. The control program transferred to the machine was changed by the operator according to his understanding of the optimal processing. A titanium billet weighing tens of kilograms was damaged, the working group received an incorrect understanding of the development results. A mark in the library about the difference between the versions of the downloaded and “downloaded” code made it possible to find out the true cause of the failure and eliminate its impact on further development. nine0005


The correct result is achieved by combining effective planning, organization of production, selection of tools and equipment, careful preparation of the technological process, training of personnel and control over their actions.

Efforts in factory automation can reduce or eliminate many waste. But you need to start with the analysis and optimization of production and technological processes. Attempting to automate suboptimal algorithms of work leads to overexpenditure of resources. nine0005

The struggle with the above problems is at the level of ERP and MES. But even at the level of processing machine data, you can get a lot of useful information and localize possible production troubles. If you can correctly collect and interpret CNC data, you can move from production-based control to real-time control. Obtaining information about the current state of the technological process, it is possible to prevent accidents, losses and rejects, and reduce their negative consequences. This will reduce costs and increase productivity. nine0005

Many of the ideas presented in the article are closely related to the ideology of lean manufacturing. It is useful to consider them together.

Thus, the loss of time on the machine has many reasons and it is necessary to deal with them comprehensively. At the same time, monitoring is not the end, but only the first step towards enterprise automation from the level of machine data obtained on CNC machines to production planning.