For as universal as grief is, it’s something that is still little understood. We will all grieve and mourn a loss at some point in our life. That is, unfortunately, certain. But what’s uncertain is how we will grieve. It’s uncertain how we will mourn. And it’s uncertain how we will cope as we make our own journey through our grief and try to find a path toward healing.
Despite the uncertainty, there have been attempts to identify and define certain aspects of grief. In this ongoing series, we will explore the different theories that try to define grief. In this segment, we’ll cover the Continuing Bonds theory. To see the other theories we’ve covered so far, click the links below.
- Kübler-Ross Model of grief
- Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning
- Rando’s Six R Process of Mourning
- Parkes and Bowlby’s Four Phases of Grief
It’s important to remember that these theories are just that — theories. In reality, grief isn’t as simple as a list of steps or stages, and everyone grieves in their own unique way.
A New Model of Grief
The Continuing Bonds theory was first proposed in Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief (Death Education, Aging and Health Care). The authors and grief experts Phyllis Silverman, Dennis Klass, and Steven Nickman wrote the book to question the old models of grief.
If you look back on some of the models we’ve covered, such as the Kübler-Ross Model, their primary focus is the recovery and “acceptance” of loss.
The authors of Continuing Bonds wanted to challenge that idea. Their idea, as stated in Continuing Bonds, “was conceived to give voice to an expanded view of the bereavement process… The idea that the purpose of grief is to sever the bonds with the deceased in order to free the survivor to make new attachments. We offer an alternative model based on the mourner’s continuing bonds with the deceased.”
Their model of grief focuses on nurturing a new relationship with the deceased, as opposed to trying to “get over” or learning to “let go” of a loved one. It’s an important model because, at the time, it fundamentally changed how we looked at and studied the impact of loss.
Under the Continuing Bonds model, grief doesn’t have any “steps,” “phases,” or “tasks”. It isn’t a linear path, meaning you don’t start out feeling one set of emotions (sadness, shock) and try to work through them to get to another set of emotions (acceptance). The authors claim older models are about trying to “detach” from our relationship with the deceased.
Their theory instead says that when a loved one dies, we slowly adjust and adapt our relationship with them. Everyone does this in their own way, but continuing our relationship is seen as a healthy and normal part of the grief process. This process of adjusting and redefining our relationship with a loved one allows a continued bond with them and will last throughout one’s life. This lasting attachment is seen as a natural and human response to loss.
In the book, the authors look at examples of other cultures and how they mourn. One example was Japanese people and how they maintain a deep spiritual connection with their ancestors. One could also look at the Mexican festival Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which celebrates the connection between the living and their ancestors.
In fact, continuing our bonds with a loved one is something many of us who have experienced a loss already do. Here are some practical examples of how we do that:
- Talking to a loved one while visiting their grave and final resting place. It’s an act that often brings comfort and a sense of peace.
- Keeping small keepsakes or things to remember them by, such as jewelry, a special picture, or old letters.
- Maintaining rituals that you once shared with a loved one, such as baking or another favorite hobby.
- The simple act of remembering special moments spent with a loved one.
- The desire to carry on their legacy through charity work, fundraisers, and other memorial acts.
These are just a few of the many ways we can continue a bond with our loved one. And as the Continuing Bond theory states, it’s not only a normal — but a necessary — part of grief.
What are your thoughts on the Continuing Bonds theory? Share with us in the comments below! In our next segment, we’ll explore the Identity of Grievers model.
Download our free guide on grief for ways to help your client families through their grief journey.