Continuing Bonds

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her self-portrait over that of her daughter who died in an illustration of continuing bonds.I was ashamed to admit I still talk to my daughter who died. And I was afraid that if I let go of her, or allowed my grief to dissipate even an ounce, we would both be lost. Other than that, seven years out from Marika’s death, I thought I’d figured out this thing called grieving, and was finally, kinda pretty-much (most days) at peace with the way things had turned out. I was okay, except for hanging onto her and feeling like maybe I was defective because I wouldn’t let myself detach.

Then, last week, I learned about continuing bonds, a modern view of grief where therapists encourage preserving but redefining the relationship one has with a loved one who died. Even altered by the absence of the physical presence, connections with the deceased can still grow and continue for the lifetime of the one left behind. The continuing bonds theory contends that staying connected, rather than ending the relationship, helps the bereaved cope with loss and the ensuing changes in one’s life.

For years, to feel closer to Marika, I’ve been talking to her, letting her inspire and guide me, taking up some of the things she did, learning to love what she loved, wearing her scarves and tight jeans, and eating sushi every chance I get. She was a writer and blogger so I became a writer and blogger. She loved Facebook and photography. So…. This was the only way I could survive.

This week’s assignment in photography class was to turn the camera on our-selves to make conceptual self-portraits, ones that express some facet of personal identity. I answered the same questions I pose to my other subjects: What is it like to do what you do? What did you lose? What did you find?

What it’s like to keep on loving Marika’s ghost – It’s comforting. It’s like I’m carrying her, like I did before she was born. Like I always have her close by my side. It makes me stronger. Braver.

I lost the feeling that I had to hide my ongoing attachment to my daughter. I found that our once rocky relationship has matured and mellowed over the past seven years. Marika used to say, “Mom, you’re a wimp.” And now I hear, “Mom, you can do this.”


How do you cope with loss and the accompanying changes in your life? In what other ways can one stay connected to a loved one who died?

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9 thoughts on “Continuing Bonds

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    What a beautiful post, Robin! I wrote a piece called “Continuing Bonds” in the very beginning of blogging in 2012. It’s a comforting idea and it works for me. It means I don’t have to fight the natural connection. I feel Vic as a living inner presence. I’m often in dialogue with his voice in me when I’m confused, have rushes of sadness, or rushes of love. I also meet up with him in dreams. I haven’t found any down side to continuing a loving relationship because, like Marika, my inner Vic has full faith that I can do this.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Well, Elaine. I always seem to be following in your footsteps. I guess this continuing bonds thing isn’t news but it does make it easier to feel good about what we’ve been doing all along. No downside here either. Keeping a tight connection with Marika actually gets me out more and doing things I’d never have tried on my own. Comforting. Yes. But I still wish I could dream of her more. I love that you get regular visits from Vic in your dreams. Cheers!

  2. Pam

    What a lovely photo you’ve made, Robin, and it portrays the Continuing Bonds understanding perfectly.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank you, Pam. Still working on portraying continuing bonds. It was such a great find, and made me so relieved, that I think I should give it more expression. Thank you for sharing your book. I have been inspired, thanks to you.

        1. Robin Botie Post author

          Got any other interesting books related to that? I think I want to explore continuing bonds more. There are few books or articles that show what this looks like.

          1. Pam

            I don’t think any others that I have develop the continuing bonds approach, though one I borrowed last year written about 40 years ago seemed to tentatively consider such. Most of what I have was based on the ‘stages’. Other much more recent books I’m aware of, but don’t own, that go along the narrative therapy line to develop continuing bonds: “It’s OK That You’re Not OK”, Megan Devine, and “Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century” , Dr. Candi Cann. O’Malley calls both authors ‘kindred souls’, the major difference between himself and them being that he is a bereaved parent himself as well as a therapist. It seemed to me that some of us have instinctively sought to develop continuing bonds, and how affirming to find it really has a psychological basis.


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