Man hugging woman
May 15, 2023

When a loved one dies, connection can remain

By Amanda Constable

Today I pulled into my parents’ driveway, heading straight for my dad’s workshop, ready to share the latest funny story about my 8-year-old son and anticipating my dad’s delight. As my hand reached for the door, I was crushed by the realization that he was not there and never would be again. I scolded myself for the automatic lapse in memory. He has been dead for 10 years. How is it possible to forget?  

Not only is it obviously possible, but it is also normal, healthy, and natural. I cherish my relationship with my dad. I have used present tense on purpose. My dad’s death ended the tangible expressions of love that I would like to express, but it did not end the love. I am learning to continue my relationship with him because relationships are more than tangible expressions of adoration; they are also an awareness of the relevance he has in my life.  

When I imagine what my dad’s reaction would have been when he hears about my son’s exploits, his reaction of patience, good humor, and love, I allow who I knew him to be to inform me in my reactions as a parent. This is a continuing bond. When I want to lose my patience upon discovering that my son has splashed half his bathwater out of the tub because “There was a hurricane!” I can take a step back and remember my dad’s indulgence and appreciation of a child’s imagination. 

My dad and I continue our relationship through his legacy as well. Legacy is a beautiful way to continue a bond with people we love. While not all the children in our family knew my dad when he was alive, all the children know “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe and can name at least one Gordon Lightfoot song. My dad’s legacy lives on in our family’s love of great literature and music. When I share what my dad loved with people who were never lucky enough to meet him, that’s another way I can continue my relationship with him.

One of our rights as grieving humans is to continue connection with the person who has died. It is in this way we honor the life they lived and the relationships we shared. Not knowing how to do this can add to the feeling of being lost in an existence that no longer holds the physical presence of someone important to us. The Continuing Bond Theory (Dennis Klass, Phyllis R. Silverman, and Steven L. Nickman) introduces the idea of exploring meaning and value in continued association with loved ones who have died. Through this new perspective, we get to acknowledge an enormous change in how we show our love and be part of continuity and evolution rather than think we must learn to leave behind and forget a meaningful relationship. 

Amanada Constable is manager of the WinterSpring grief support and education program. WinterSpring offers free information and resources to support grief and help create continuing bonds. Call the team at 541-552-0620.

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  1. Thank you Amanda! Great reminder that our relationship with our loved ones can continue as we share their memories with others.

  2. I have recently lost my 39 yoa son to a heart incident while he was rafting on the rogue river . Sudden and shocking and my son was the person behind our family buying a farm and with him gone I find the grief to be more about how my life has been impacted than just about him being gone. I miss him so much and I’m feeling a new layer of grief about my entire life and it’s so overwhelming right now. He died Jan 4 2022 and it’s been one year since we had his celebration of life ceremony on the land. I’m 72 next month and a grandmother with a daughter and her husband on the farm and I’m not feeling like I have any options at this point and I have done some grief classes and go to a group and I feel like I’m getting worse instead of better.