Updated: Jun 24
Continuing Bond Theory (Klass, Silvermand & Nickman, 1996) – hypothesizes that relationships do change with death and do not end. A continuing bond is normal, adaptive and comforting.
Now this may seem like common sense. However, there was a time in history when continuing a bond with a deceased loved one was considered a pathological response to loss. Grief counselors, psychologists and people who study bereavement now encourage the continuing bond theory as a healthy response to grieving.
The continuing bonds theory works to normalize a continued relationship with a loved one after they have passed. It encourages embracing life’s many milestones in the context of your relationship with your lost loved one. It also promotes embracing your life as it continues to evolve after a major loss.
Bereavement counselors who help grieving clients work through the continuing bonds theory also understand that there is no end to grief. Grief is not something someone simply “gets over”. Grief does not come to everyone in a set of perfectly defined stages. Grief is as unique to you as your thumbprint. Although it never goes away, it is something that becomes a part of our life story. As time progresses, it becomes less overwhelming.
The continuing bonds theory allows the bereaved to stay connected to the ones they have lost. It promotes the idea that your relationship with a lost loved one evolves as your earthly life evolves.
The best way I have heard it described was in an Ologies podcast with Alie Ward and Thanatologist Cole Imperi. Cole described the loss of a parent. She described that as you achieve different milestones in your life you will reflect and relate those milestones in relation to your parent who has passed.
As with all things, too much of anything can have a negative result. So, how does one practice the continuing bonds theory in a healthy manner? The goal is to remain connected to your loved one as you cope and adjust to life without them.
1. Working with a grief counselor or bereavement counselor is the best way to work through the continuing bonds theory. A grief counselor will check in with you and allow you a space and time to grieve in a healthy and safe way. For more information on local grief counselors click here.
2. Visiting a memorial space is a comforting way to continue the bond with a deceased loved one. A memorial space allows you the opportunity to spend time with the memories of your deceased loved one. You may even find it comforting to talk to them in the space, thus allowing you to share and continue with your special bond.
3. Holding on to personal items allows us to have a tangible touchstone that helps foster fond memories of the animals and people we have lost. It could be a blanket or a collar that your pet wore and loved.
4. Maintaining rituals we had with a lost loved one is another healthy way to foster the continuing bond theory. Taking a walk in a place you and your pet loved to walk may allow you to connect to your beloved pet in a positive and healthy way.
5. Journaling memories or feelings about a deceased loved one is another example of an exercise in the continuing bonds theory. This is a safe way to explore your grief and sadness. Journaling is proven to help the bereaved move past deep unrelenting pain in a positive way.