Victims' Families Mourn Without Body

ByABC News via logo
September 28, 2001, 11:09 AM

N E W   Y O R K, Sept. 28 -- As the search mission at ground zero goes on, some families face a cruel reality they may never find the bodies of their loved ones.

Many families of victims in the World Trade Center attack may never get to go through the traditional rituals of death.

To date, authorities have identified only 238 bodies from the scene, and there are 5,960 people still missing. Although forensic scientists expect that DNA tests will identify most of the bodies and remains that are recovered, it is likely that many of the victims' families will never have any physical confirmation of their loved one's death.

Without a body to mourn over, it can be more difficult to move past the pain, according to family therapist Pauline Boss, author of Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief.

Boss created the term "ambiguous loss" to describe the inability to move forward that occurs when there is no verification of a missing person's status. Unresolved loss can make it harder for families to get closure, she said.

"It becomes a loss without comprehension," Boss said on Good Morning America. "It's hard for the mind and the heart to accept death without a body and some of the ceremonies that go along with it."

Boss, a family social science professor at the University of Minnesota, said that it takes longer to get over an unresolved death. "Family and friends have to realize that this kind of loss will be slower toward grieving and moving on than other kinds of loss so we need to be more patient and tolerant."