All too often, my family has experienced loss and the inevitable grief that follows. I learnt, at the young age of six years, what it means for a person to die. I learnt what it is to experience the following gaping hole of loss in our lives and I learnt that grief is a powerful force that takes many forms. No matter what difficulties we face in life, experiencing the loss of a loved one is a pain that is often incalculable and impacting in ways that are often immeasurable; for the impacts can be both immediate and long-term.
In my field of work, as a Counsellor and Psychotherapist, I counsel people who fear death; their own and that of those they are close to. I also counsel those who are dying and those who have lost someone they hold dear and/or meaningful to them.
I have been trained in a variety of what would be classed, in my line of work, as ‘models of grief’. These can be useful in helping people to understand that grief is not one static emotional state; it is a variety of emotional thoughts, feelings and states of mind which can affect how we function psychologically and physiologically. It is widely regarded that we experience grief by moving through a number of states of mind and emotions; for example we may be shocked, we may despair, we may become angry and we may learn to accept. This is just one very simplified example of what can be stages of grief processes. In reality, the component stages of grieving can be many and can be complex. In addition to the psychological and physiological impacts of grief, our emotional state can affect our behaviour in any or all aspects of our lives.
As an Accredited and practising Counsellor and Psychotherapist, I am required to see a Clinical Supervisor, who oversees my work. I too am a Clinical Supervisor to other Counsellors and Psychotherapists. My Clinical Supervisor is called Rose. She has decades of experience and she is incredibly wise. I benefit from both Rose’s supervision and from her wisdom; which comes from both her professional and personal life.
I was discussing my work on the subject of grief, with Rose, during one of my monthly Clinical Supervision sessions. We discussed a number of different ways in which grief can be experienced and Rose offered an enlightening concept that is rarely mentioned these days, in our field of work. This was the subject of ‘Continuing Bonds’.
Rose explained that another person working in the field of Psychology, going back thirty years or so, had stated that he had found the many ‘models of grief’, that have become the accepted norm. in our field, were just not sitting comfortably with him. This person (whose name escapes me) had stated that he found ‘models of grief’ to be too prescriptive. Not everyone experiences grief the same way and it was, to this person, as though the world of Psychology had started to ‘process’ people almost as if putting them through a ‘one size fits all conveyer belt’.
Rose offered me this information, as I too was stating that I was finding interventions around supporting people through grief were becoming too standardised and that not all people experience grief the same way. I also stated, from my own experience of losing loved ones, that to me grief didn’t seem to be a process that has an end. Instead, I felt that therapeutic ‘models of grief’ were missing the way the surviving person goes on enduring the loss of their loved one for the rest of their life.
In response, Rose continued to explain that the man she spoke of had described ‘Continuing Bonds’. This, she explained, is where we recognise that we are actually ‘still in a relationship with the deceased person’. Hearing this quite blew me away. It was the finest description of being the surviving person, I had heard.
For example, my Dad passed away when I was thirty years old; back in 2002. He had been diagnosed with Cancer while I was holidaying in the USA. Dear friends in California, upon receiving my news that my Dad had been admitted to hospital, drove me to the airport and within a couple of hours I was flying home to England. I came straight home and went to visit my Dad. Six weeks later, he died; having lost his fight to survive.
After my Dad had died, my experience was that I would continue to relate to my Dad, even though he was not physically present. I would sometimes see something on tv and I would want to phone my Dad and tell him about it. He was gone, so I could not do that but, in my mind, I knew exactly how he would have reacted to what I would have told him. If I sometimes have a problem, I often think about what my Dad might suggest to me and the answer comes to me. If there is something political happening in the world, I often imagine the conversation my Dad and I would have had about it. So, even though my Dad is gone, my ‘bond’ with him continues. I am still in a relationship with my Dad. Rose’s description of a ‘continuing bond’ made the most wonderful sense. Our deceased loved ones still play a part in our ongoing lives.
This is a photo of a very young me, with my Dad, when we lived in South Africa.
Now when I work with people around the subject of loss, I offer the insight of ‘continuing bonds’. I believe it helps people to recognise that, although a grieving process happens, the relationship with the deceased can continue. It will continue for as long as we keep our lost loved ones alive in our minds. We can still have the experience of sharing thoughts, feelings and emotions by still relating to that lost loved one. For me, this has been a great source of comfort and I wanted to write about that here in my Blog, for the power of the continuing bond can be a wonderful source of coping, healing and of comfort.
To further support this, I have found a wonderful Eulogy that represents so well, the idea of the ongoing relationship, through the continuing bond:
Many thanks to Karen and to Jo; two of my Blog readers who have informed me that the Eulogy is called ‘Death is Nothing At All’ and that the Author of this Eulogy was Canon Henry Scott-Holland, 1847-1918.
If you have lost someone dear to you, I would hope that you will find comfort from reading this Blog post and from knowing that your relationship with the loved one you have lost, can be a part of your life for as long as you want it to be. This, for me, is far more meaningful than trying to focus on any grieving process. It is in the continuing bond, that we can again smile, feel joy at the memory of our departed loved one and we can feel that they are still, in some way, present in our lives; for the relationship goes on.
(C) Dean Parsons 2016.