Continuing Bonds

Baby hand holding mother's hands

In a bereaved parents’ meeting, I recently spoke about the desire many parents have to continue the emotional bond with their children who have died. The signs of relief were audible. “I am tired of the pressure to ‘get over’ the death of my daughter,” one mother said. “I will love her and feel connected to her for the rest of my life.”

About 20 years ago a group of researchers and clinicians challenged the idea that came from the previous decades of psychological models that proposed grief as a series of stages or tasks to be worked through to resolution and closure. They summarized their research in a book titled Continuing Bonds: New Understanding of Grief.

Researchers Dennis Klass, Phyllis R. Silverman, and Steven Nickman studied the diaries of the bereaved in the 19th century in this country and grief rituals throughout history in other cultures. They also interviewed currently bereaved parents in support groups in the U.S. They found a pervasive and deep longing for connection to the one who died and resistance to ending their emotional attachment to the deceased.

The intensity of loss may change over time but the relationship with the one who died does not end. As these researchers concluded, experiencing an ongoing emotional connection with the deceased is more consistent with how humankind has mourned in the thousands of years before the last century, when psychology defined grief as a condition to be worked through.


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Dr. Patrick O’Malley is a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling. For 35 years, he has counseled individuals, couples and families in his private practice. Dr. O'Malley has recently published a book, "Getting Grief Right" about grief recovery.

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