From This Day Forward:
A Widow’s Understanding of Continuing Bonds
By Louise McOrmond-Plummer
The loss of Ken, my beloved husband of thirty years, to cancer in 2016 was so devastating that I am persuaded that the grief may, in varying degrees, be lifelong. However, the speed with which advice to “Let go and Move on” reached me was mind-boggling. The first week brought a popular but, in my opinion, excruciatingly awful poem titled Miss Me But Let Me Go.
For many bereaved people, these platitudes are not only unhelpful, but are actively hurtful, and actually counter-intuitive. Having already been forced to let go of Ken at the hospital in which he died, the thought of doing it again in any other form, frankly horrified me. And, if moving on meant leaving the most intimate friend of my heart behind, well, thanks but no thanks. Imagine, then, my relief upon hearing about continuing bonds, a narrative of grief wherein we may foster and enjoy ongoing relationships with deceased loved ones. Further, we may do so without being perpetually mired in grief; we can move forward and we can take our beloved along with us. Several cultures have routinely practiced this wisdom for millennia – for example, in Manila there are little cemetery mansions complete with TV, telephones and toilets, where people can visit and have sleepovers with deceased family. Children, including my grandsons who like to leave drawings at Pop’s memorial tree, innately understand it. The continuing of bonds seems implicit also in the actions of grievers who have a party for what would have been a darling daughter’s twenty-first birthday, or who put Dad’s picture in front of the TV so he can watch the footy with them. People may fear that they’re weird for appealing to a long-dead grandmother for help. Ultimately, however, we need nobody else’s permission to find constructive strategies for maintaining that vital attachment. It’s okay, it’s healthy, and to hell with even the best-intended earache about “letting go and moving on.”
Ways of continuing bonds with loved ones who have passed are myriad, and they don’t necessarily require any religious underpinning. I share news and jokes regularly with my husband. For the first wedding anniversary since Ken’s death, I wrote new vows, promising to love him from this day forward into eternity. I’m making a patchwork quilt from his clothes; this, for me, is beautifully symbolic of how our relationship still exists, just in altered form.
Continuing bonds not only allows for an ongoing relationship with a deceased loved one, but also for that relationship to grow and evolve over time. Although my grief is still pretty raw, the possibilities in that bring me truly consoling and restorative hope.
Neither should we fear that continuing the bond means denial or not accepting the death. Don’t we wake up every morning knowing that it happened? It simply means that there’s no reason to believe that our relationship with a loved one died with that person. It is a relationship, albeit in differing form. And we can have that, and hold it, for always.
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