By: Stacia Macklin, LCSW

Many of us, both grievers and helpers, are familiar with traditional grief models that focus on “stages” and “tasks” or “closure” and “acceptance”. These suggest there is a linear progression in the grief journey and that there is a final phase or destination. However, there is another grief model to consider. In 1996, a book entitled “Continuing Bonds:  A New Understanding of Grief” was published by Klass, Silverman, and Nickman. While it may be one of the lesser-known grief models in our society, it is one that often resonates with grievers I meet.  

At the core of the model is the idea that one’s relationship with and connection to their loved one evolves, rather than ends, at the time of their death. Rather than detaching from them, we carry them forward with us. I meet many grievers who ask me questions like “It is crazy that I still talk to my son?” or “Is it okay if I cook my mother’s favorite meal on her birthday?”.  This continuing bonds concept can be both empowering and normalizing for these grievers who find comfort in maintaining a connection to their loved one after their death.

If this resonates with you as well, here are a few ideas for fostering a continued bond and connection with your loved one:

  • Keep something of theirs with you. This may be a piece of jewelry or an article of clothing that you wear. It may be a note from your loved one, a favorite trinket, or a ticket stub from their favorite movie that you carry in your coat pocket or your purse/wallet. In cases where you don’t have items of your loved one, you may wish to find something (like a piece of jewelry or an object) that reflects your loved one’s unique qualities or interests.  
  • Adopt a hobby they enjoyed or finish a project they had started. It may be something you did together, or it may be something you are trying for the first time without them. Give yourself grace to try these activities or take on a project at your own pace and at your own ability level. If your loved participated in a sport as their hobby, and you’re not able to physically participate in it yourself, consider watching these sporting events in person or on television as a spectator.
  • Imagine what advice they would give you when you are making tough decisions or facing challenges. For the grievers I meet, doing so often brings a smile to their face or leads them to take a deep breath. Most find comfort or humor in imagining what their loved one might advise. 
  • Talk to them or write to them. Talking can be out loud or an internal dialogue. I often encourage grievers to continue with whatever means of communication they used with their loved one when they were alive. For those who most often texted, I suggest creating a note in their cell phone. For those who emailed or wrote to their loved one, I suggest using a journal to write notes to their loved.  It can be helpful to have an outlet ready for when the urge to reach out to your loved one hits.
  • Incorporate their favorite foods, movies, or music into your routine. Each of these can bring back comforting memories of your loved one. You may choose to get takeout from their favorite restaurant, make a long-loved recipe, or try a new recipe for a food they always loved. You may find a movie, a musical artist or genre, or a song that was their favorite and that now brings you peace or joy as well.

If you are interested in exploring ways to continue your bond with your loved one, you can find more ideas here:

For more information on Continuing Bonds Theory:  

A Grief Concept You Should Care About: Continuing Bonds – Whats your Grief