by Chaplain Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC
“My loved one died a year ago, and I still say goodnight to their photo.” “I find myself being a cemetery person, since my son died 4 years ago. It helps me feel close to him.” “I have a table in my home with several photos of my wife and our life together along with some memorabilia. It’s a way of keeping her near.”
“A person does not always have to be present for us to feel connected. When the absence is the result of a death it is necessary to change the nature of the relationship rather than letting it go.”
– Phyllis R. Silverman
What’s wrong with these people, that they can’t let go of their deceased loved one? It is perfectly normal and natural that they want to remain close in these ways. According to Klass, Silverman, and Nickman, who authored, Continuing Bond: New Understanding of Grief, 1996, there is nothing pathological about this behavior, continuing bonds provides a healthy coping and adapting to grief. Survivors of grief find places for the dead in their lives and sometimes in their communities. “Such bonds are not denial’, the deceased can provide resources for enriched functioning in the present.”
Culture Informs Our Understanding
Culturally, we believed that the only way for someone to move forward in their grief after a death, is to fully cut themselves off from the relationship of the person who died. That might be helpful for some, but continuing bonds suggests that it is not true for others. People who have been an important part of our lives, are always in our lives, even after death. The relationship with our deceased loved one is dynamic, changing after death, as we grieve, and continues to evolve throughout our lives, changing along with us, as we continue to age.
Ways We Hold On
Continuing bonds can look like holding on to items or continuing daily habits. A bereaved husband talked about always cleaning up the kitchen, having the dishes done every night before bed, because his wife used to do so. Conversations with our loved ones are another example. A bereaved wife said she would go to the hunting land her husband bought, just she, all by herself, in an effort to feel closer to him. Another wife shared that she would not allow anyone else to mow the lawn for her, that she took that duty on because her spouse used to do it, and it was a way for her to feel his presence. These behaviors are natural for those who are grieving and adapting to a life without their loved one in it.
It is acceptable to continue a relationship with the deceased after they have died. The relationship will be very different of course, but if it brings comfort and helps you cope with your grief, please continue and allow that bond that you shared, to evolve and sustain you, in your sorrow and adapting to a world without your loved one. And please let others know that researches have shown that continuing bonds with our deceased loved ones is perfectly normal and natural.
Continuing Bonds, New Understandings of Grief, edited by Dennis Klass, Phyllis R. Silverman, and Steven L. Nickman, 1996, by Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.