Do you still feel connected to people you’ve lost? Do you sometimes speak out loud to someone who has died? Are there items or photographs that help you feel your loved one’s presence? If so, you may be experiencing a type of grief known as “continuing bonds,” which was described in a 1996 book by psychologist Dennis Klass, Harvard-educated bereavement expert Phyllis Silverman, and psychiatrist Steven L. Nickman.
The authors of Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief disagree with theories presenting grief as a linear process with a new life as the end goal.
They believe it is inaccurate to label someone with a continuing bond to the deceased as abnormal. They say that remaining connected to a lost loved one can actually bring comfort and help people cope — and grief is not an illness that reaches an endpoint but is rather something we live with to varying degrees throughout our lives.
The theory has four main premises:
- Grief is ongoing. It’s not something to “get over” so that you can “move on” but rather a process of integrating the reality of loss into your life.
- It’s normal to stay connected to someone you loved. You don’t stop loving someone when that person dies. Death redefines the relationship but it doesn’t end it. Particularly for those who believe in an afterlife, there’s a hope of someday being reunited with the person who has died.
- Some grief-related behaviors are the result of this connection. Feeling a grandmother’s presence when baking her famous chocolate cake or talking to a parent about a big decision are examples of how people continue to express connection to loved ones who have died. Other examples include holding on to a keepsake as a reminder of the lost loved one, continuing his or her legacy through volunteer work or charitable acts, or maintaining rituals that were special to the two of you.
- These behaviors can actually help you in your grief. All the examples mentioned here are practical expressions of grief that can comfort people who have suffered a loss. They are ways of processing what has happened and holding on to a piece of the relationship while still moving forward with life.
Of course, sometimes people become stuck in their grief and are unable to move forward because they are so devastated by their loss. If continuing bonds are preventing your progress in healing, you may need to seek help.
At Skylawn Funeral Home and Memorial Park, we’ve been helping families work through their grief since 1959, and our team understands the reality of continuing bonds. Call us at (650) 227-3142 to learn more about all we have to offer.