“Letting go” of Christine, whatever that means, is not an option for me. Our continued bond not only feels natural, and vastly preferable, but some days it’s what gets me out of bed and into the day with a desire to be present in all my relationships.
So what are continuing bonds? The concept, as named in bereavement lexicon, was first written about in the 1996 book Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief (Klass, Silverman, Nickman), which reconsidered the popular 20th century notion that the purpose of grief was to “sever bonds with the deceased in order to free the survivor to make new attachments.” In Continuing Bonds, the authors present their research, offer historical perspective, and present a model for a “resolution for grief that involves a continuing bond the survivor maintains with the deceased.” An idea that lost favor about 100 years ago. Before that it was the prevailing cultural paradigm. Thanks a lot, Freud.
In short, the model of “continuing bonds” is one where interdependence is sustained even in the absence of one of the parties. If you think about it, don’t we do this everyday in all our sustaining relationships with the living? We can’t be together every moment, and yet our bond is not shattered by this reality. As Phyllis Silverman, one of the book’s authors, so aptly put it, “A person does not always have to be present for us to feel connected.”
I continue to feel deeply connected to Kissie, and though that connection has radically, irreparably changed, and though I miss her physical presence so enormously, I nurture that connection, long for it acutely, and make a concerted effort to maintain it.
Here’s a thoughtful piece Ms. Silverman wrote in her Raising Grieving Children blog for Psychology Today: Thinking About Continuing Bonds.