Grieving the Unknown: Families of the Missing Face Painful Limbo

We don’t know what happened to the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, which throws the families of the passengers of Flight 370 into a kind of painful in-between: Their loved ones aren’t here. But they’re also not certainly dead. They’re just … gone.

In the five days since the plane disappeared, these loved ones have been in anguished limbo — a state known as “ambiguous loss,” coined by psychologist and author Pauline Boss.

“That is, when somebody is missing or has vanished without a trace, and you don’t know their fate, or the whereabouts of their body, and whether they’re dead or alive,” Boss says. “So it becomes so uncanny, and strange, for the families; they’re never quite sure if the person is truly dead.”

It’s a feeling that can apply to dozens of experiences, like losing a pregnancy, or losing a family member, small pieces

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