How do you go on without your departed loved one? 

Posted on June 30, 2022 by Rev. Pam Reidy under grief, loss, mourning
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The answer is… you don’t.  In my last blog I wrote about the Continuing Bonds Theory (CBT).  “CBT promotes healing by acknowledging all that has been and encouraging a continuing relationship with the deceased. This newer theory moves away from 20th century models of grief that encouraged cutting bonds with the deceased, so that the griever can “move on” in life.”  This week I asked several people to describe their personal experience of continuing a relationship with their departed loved ones.

The most common response involved fostering a continuing presence at family celebrations. From the simple act of lighting a memorial candle to family storytelling on the birth date of their loved one, most people connect with their dearly departed on special days.  Tributes, customs, and recollections tend to occur on major holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and July 4th.  But birthdays are, by far, the most common day people do something to experience the closeness of the deceased.  One person reported that their family goes out to dinner on what would have been her husband’s birthday and the conversation is limited to stories about him.  A woman with small children, fearing her children will forget the dad they didn’t get a chance to know, has a “birthday” party for him, decorating the house with pictures of him and party decorations.  While decorating she tells “daddy stories” and then they have a special “daddy cake.”   Having a “daddy cake” more often can be a way to keep him alive for these children.

One woman who lost her husband all too soon has a weekly date night with him.  A guy visits the cemetery where he has planted a beautiful small garden for his wife, there he talks to her while tending it. One of my favorites is the teenager who keeps a diary to her mom, telling her everything she “would tell her if she was alive.”  I think in the writing this young woman is keeping her mom alive.   And one I really like is the woman who told me that she sings a song to her deceased twin sister every morning, never the same song, but always one that signifies something meaningful in their relationship – past or current. Whether silly, serious, or loosely connected to something happening to her, the morning song reminds her that “my sister is still with me every day.”

Whatever one’s belief about the afterlife, the people we have intimately shared life with such as our family of origin, spouses, children or lovers, are individuals who have shaped us into the beings we are, their unique contribution to our personal story is lasting. We know these people so deeply that it is second nature to experience their presence, to evoke what they would say or do in our current circumstance, how they would embrace us when we worry,  guide us when we are confused, or rejoice in our happiness.

When I was a young and my mom was expecting her 6th child, we gathered around her bed each night to pray the rosary for a healthy baby.  When the COVID 19 outbreak began I started a daily prayer to my parents asking their protection from the perils of the pandemic, in this prayer I named each one of my siblings, their families and those they love.  To date, I have not missed a day saying this prayer, summoning their presence and help.  This action is a clear example of the continuing bond theory.  I have brought my deceased parents into the present in a way that continues the bond we shared.

For the ones who have left this world and those left behind, life has changed, not ended. An important part of grief work is to recognize and keep our eternal connection in a concrete way, realizing that bodies die, but the essence of a person does not. Read more ideas for continuing the bonds here:


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