“I’m over that. Done. I’ve moved on,” said a friend, about her child who died years before. Great for her, I thought, not able to imagine ever even wanting to be “done” with my own daughter, gone over 7 ½ years now. Actually, I’ve been carrying my Marika—whatever I could find left of her to hang onto—since she died. Different things work for different people.
A griever’s mental status used to be questioned if one held on to the memory of a loved one too long. Mercifully, someone came up with a modern grief theory called Continuing Bonds. It is now considered acceptable to create an enduring relationship with a deceased loved one as a way of coping and finding comfort while continuing to live one’s life. Even as one’s life changes with the loss. It is okay to stay connected. And it’s normal for these relationships to grow and change over time.
Continuing Bonds came instinctively to me. A matter of my own survival, it began the day after Marika died, when I collapsed, devastated, onto her bed, desperate to breathe in her scent and see the world from where she saw it. At first, I needed to wear what she wore, and hold what she held. That led to doing what she did, and loving what she loved. All the things that were part of her life, that I hadn’t understood or cared for—like writing, photography, blogging and posting on Facebook, making up tunes to play on instruments—I ended up finding myself drawn to. Doing these things daily now, I am living a life my daughter would have loved. It makes me feel forever linked to her.
There are many ways to maintain ties after the loss of someone who was the light of your life. I wanted to know what Continuing Bonds looked like for others. Not much is written about this because each person approaches it differently. It looks like the widow who still talks to her husband of fifty years, or the bereaved parents who keep their child’s room as it was before death—in order to have a special place to feel close to him. Some people start foundations and community events to honor their loved ones. Some look to their deceased loved one for inspiration in trying new things. Some create meaningful personal rituals, or works of art. Others continue their loved one’s work. Many try to live in a way that would make their beloved proud.
“Moving on” can be good. Maybe that’s what living is all about. But we learn from the ones we love and think we lost. Whether or not we choose to ‘carry them with us’ into the next chapters of our lives, I’m pretty sure that simply having loved them turns us into better people.
What do you think about keeping connected to a deceased loved one?
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A beautiful piece, Robin. Thank you. Staying connected makes me stronger, more sure of myself, and more sure of my roots. I never feel weakened or held back by a continuing bond with someone who has died. I contain all my previous experiences, including what I love, including what makes me ache with longing.
Elaine, I know what you mean when you say staying connected makes you stronger and more sure of yourself. For me, I believe it makes me a better person in general. More sensitive, more compassionate. I think it maybe even makes me a little (okay, maybe a lot) more outgoing. But, as another reader mentioned here, maybe it makes me hesitant to be in a serious relationship. Who knows? I mean, why would I want to be aching with longing even more than I am now? Cheers!
After knowing you and reading your blogs all these years, Robin, I think you’re expressing your grief in very positive, vibrant, and energizing ways.
I find myself thinking of my brother Bob when I play solitaire. He was a statistician, always telling us the odds of something happening. “Bob,” I ask him, “what are the odds of me going out three times in a row?”
I think of my husband, Adrian, whenever I talk to his four sons and our granddaughters. I also have photos of him taken when he was healthy and active–that remind me of the adventures of our life together.
Grief is love and love doesn’t end.
I love that, Lynne. Grief is love and love doesn’t end. And I love that our departed loved ones, like your Bob and Adrian, can color and be a part of our lives still. Thanks for the compliments. You have been a loyal reader for lots of years and I appreciate that. Have a beautiful Thanksgiving holiday.
Nice, Robin. I’ve personally “moved on” from certain people, dead and alive, as in disengaging and leaving them back there where they belong. This I do for myself, with compassion for all concerned.
This Continuing Bonds business is something else again and thanks for sharing that. What I see is you “moving on” (active verb!) with Marika, thoughtfully, and good if that doesn’t become a kind of block and shield against risking various other relationships. Well, it will always block other relationships if you’re not careful to integrate rather than cling, because no one else can really participate or enter the club house. Nor should they embrace Marika’s memory as a way of life, that would indicate fairly low self-esteem, wouldn’t it? But appreciating how Marika saw the world, learning from that, integrating what you know because she lived life her way and because after these post years you understand just what a rich life that was during 20 short years–really amazing, as YOU YOU YOU were and have been since her death, including as a mother(!), the mother she needed and chose—that is something else again. She will always be part of you. Now after 7.5 years a very conscious part. Moving along with, in the same spirit that in my opinion would have allowed her to move on and along her own beautiful life path had the roles been reversed.
Moving along WITH Marika, not from, never from, and never in the past tense. In case I wasn’t clear. I meant to say she would’ve moved along WITH you, I think. And that is good to remember.
Especially after she matured past, reexamined, and got over the rude 20-year-old individuation behaviors…which were hard not to take personally, I can well imagine. The mutual love was always there. Hugs!
Yow, Janet. Three replies to that one post on Continuing Bonds! That must’ve really gotten to you. Don’t you just love the idea? It made all the difference in the world to how I felt about the world and my future in it. Yes, thank you. I do believe the love was always there and mutual even if Marika was being stingy in showing it. It ‘is’ there and mutual, now. The individuation thing – I’ve kinda caught onto that, I think. I believe it helps me in dealing with the world these days. I surprise myself even, taking a stance on practically everything. And I have to consider my responses to things to make sure I’m not simply devouring Marika and all she stood for.
Thank you, Janet. Moving along WITH Marika. Yes. Perfect. I wish you were here to go over everything I write before I publish it on my blog and Facebook, and then feel like ripping it up and revising the whole thing. This is definitely clear. Wanna vacation in Ithaca sometime? Gotta guestroom.
Yeah, well, if the roles had been reversed it would have been an entirely different story. I was not her favorite person, to say the least. I’m sure my death-day, if she’d survived me, would have been a huge holiday in her eyes, a time to go out shopping and bingeing on Facebook and cake. As for my using my love of Marika’s memory as a block to risking other relationships—you are right. I do tend to measure all possibilities in that arena against my having loved her. And I do consider the pain and nuisance of being in a serious relationship. I may never have a partner again. But then, I have so many friends and so little time and only a tiny bit of interest in pairing up with anyone. It’s probably true that I am doing myself a dis-service in that regard. But I don’t believe I’m hurting anyone else. And somehow, right now, as my least fave time of the year approaches—I find myself happy. Go figure! Cheers, Janet.