Have you ever wondered why grief feels so hard…why our heart literally aches after the death of someone we love?
Many years ago, when psychologists and social scientists first tried to understand how humans cope with loss, they hypothesized that we should completely detach ourselves from the person who died to heal our grief.
Thankfully, theorists now agree that avoidance and denial are not effective (or healthy) ways to process grief. Humans are created for connection, and our daily lives revolve around the intimate attachments we form. Death has the power to separate us from our loved ones physically, but it does not sever our emotional connections or bonds to them.
Our love remains.
As we move throughout the grief journey, our love and connection may not look or feel the same as it did before. Instead of our loved one playing a present role in our every day lives, they become a person of memory in our continued lives.
The fancy grief counseling phrase for this phenomenon is called a “continuing bond.”
Just as no two people experience grief in the same way, each survivor maintains a bond in a unique way. And, our continuing bonds are likely to adapt and change over time.
Examples of Continuing Bonds
Some of us may look at photographs or watch videos of our loved ones. Others may visit the cemetery on special occasions, bake our loved one’s favorite dessert on their birthday, or spend time in a place they loved.
We may wear their favorite clothing or jewelry, share memories with our friends, or listen to music that reminds us of them.
Some of our cultural or religious traditions even invite us to place memorial shrines in our homes or celebrate their lives on various occasions, including “Dia de los Muertos” (“Day of the Dead”) and “All Soul’s Day.”
Though we may be hesitant to admit it, many of us talk to our loved ones or sense their presence around us. We consider what they would tell us or the advice they might give when making difficult life decisions.
Fifteen years after her death, I still find myself making a special recipe that reminds me of my mother-in-law, especially on the days I miss her the most. And, anytime I see a ladybug (her favorite!), I sense her presence and feel her deep love for our family.
Continuing Bonds and Healing
My dear readers, continuing bonds are an essential part of the grief and reconciliation process. They remind us that we can integrate our loved one’s memory into our ongoing lives. They enable us to invite joy, hope, and meaning into our days, even amid deep sorrow and pain.
Maya Angelou once said she would figuratively invite the memory of people, living or dead, who greatly influenced her life onto the stage with her. Each time she recited a poem or spoke to a crowd, she would call upon their legacies, drawing on the courage they instilled in her life and the lessons they imparted.
A continuing bond is an illustration of our loved one’s legacy in our lives. It is a reminder that we, as survivors, have our own continued legacy to form. We have many more opportunities to experience and share our lives and love with others.
Reconciliation does not mean we ignore or forget our losses and never speak of them again. It suggests the opposite. Reconciliation invites us to integrate our losses into our continued lives, allowing them to become a part of the tapestry that is our life story- woven together with threads of past and present.
Reconciliation enables us to live, love, and mourn with whole hearts.
This, my dear readers, is my hope for us all.