Continuing Bonds

“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.

4 thoughts on “Continuing Bonds

  1. I relate to this very much. I have bonds of varying strength with all my relatives and friends who are deceased. I can feel their present energy and the energy of the exchange of connection and love that we had while alive working in me every day. It is immensely helpful. I am working on a piece about William and Catherine Blake right now. William was closest to his brother Robert. When Robert died at a young age William was initially devastated, but continued to talk to his brother everyday for the rest of his life. He even credits Robert for helping him come up with his revolutionary idea for printing. Thanks, again, Mimi. Lots of love to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kevin, I really appreciate the distinction you make between your relatives’ present energy and the energy and connection you had during their lives. And thank you so much for mentioning the Blakes and their continuing, and inspiring, bond. I’m very excited to learn more about your work on it.


  2. Thank you for your research in this area of “continuing bonds”. I have been practicing this idea naturally since I was 27 years old, when my dad died of lung cancer.
    For some lucky reason, I was set on keeping the memories of my dad alive , if only in the realm of my own life and mind.
    I wonder if this could be partly attributed to the fact that I am a self taught “pagan”, and have always found it necessary to “make my own way”, in a culture full of Christians?
    I instinctively knew that “moving on with my life” would never happen without a conscious effort to keep my dad always in my heart and on my mind.
    Honoring and remembering the deceased seems very natural to me. I never intended to “quit grieving” and find it very disconcerting when I hear others say, “I feel like I should be done grieving by now.”
    Grieving is not something to “get over”, it is a normal and natural part of being human.
    When I cry, now, 24 years later, because I am
    missing him , in a life changing moment
    ( example: my daughter’s graduation from high school) it feels healing , loving and deepening . My life is richer with nuances because he is still here with me in spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I so relate and appreciate hearing you say that grieving feels like “a normal and natural part of being human.” Like you, following my instincts to consciously continue our bond despite modern mores to the contrary – both subtle and overt – feels healing, enriching, and completely natural and appropriate. I just can’t do otherwise!

      As for that reflex to make your own way, yes, that makes total sense. I think most artists learn that reliance on gut, often against the grain, too.

      Liked by 1 person

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