Continuing Bonds After Death?

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

We do not profess to be experts on this topic, nor will you find a specific answer to this question. Grief can lead us on a philosophical journey, one with many conflicting aspects. For many, it is a time when one begins to question beliefs that have formed from religion, culture, and family values. Our hope is to provoke thought, challenge your thinking, and encourage you to share your personal experience with others while keeping an open mind and heart.

Theories

In the early 20th century, the detachment theory (letting go) in bereavement was a common theme. In Freud's Mourning and Melancholia [1], he suggested that in order for an individual to move on, one needed to sever their emotional attachment and reinvest their free libido in a new object. When an individual was unable to emotionally let go of their dead loved one, they were treated as having a pathological condition.

A 1996 book Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief [2] challenged the concept of "letting go.” Klauss et al. recognized that rather than letting go, the bereaved studied seemed to be continuing their relationship through dreaming, talking to the person, holding a belief of being watched over, keeping personal items, visiting the grave, and frequently thinking about the deceased. This theory gave hope and comfort to many who struggled with letting go.

Reported Experiences

Many of the bereaved reported experiencing after-death communication (ADC). An ADC is a phenomenon when a living person has a sense of direct contact with a deceased person [3] [4] [5] [6]. These experiences can occur across culture, race, age, socio-economic status, education level, gender, and religious belief [7]. Some of the experiences observed for an ADC [3] have included:

  • Dreams
  • Feeling someone’s presence
  • Smelling someone or something related to a loved one (olfactory senses)
  • Electrical charges, lights, or music
  • Children having visions
  • Animals sensing something
  • Visitations
  • Items going missing
  • Unusual thoughts (ones that don’t feel like your own)
  • Repetitive appearances, such as seeing the same animal

What is right for you?

For some, delving into the possibility that there is something more beyond physical life may be met with fear and trepidation. For others, it may be a quest for the continuing bond they are longing for. Beishchel et al. suggest that ADCs can help with continued bonds and, in turn, believe they are beneficial in the resolution of grief [8]. The bereaved often reach out to a variety of different people for continuing or building bonds, obtaining support, finding answers, receiving comfort, and coping with the loss [8] [9]. These supports include the family doctor, religious leaders, support groups, social networks, friends, family, spiritual guides, psychics, mediums, and mental health professionals. Where one turns for support is an individual choice – one that is often influenced by culture, religion, and personal beliefs.

Some cultures maintain a continuing bond through recognized festivals. The Spanish holiday Dia de Muertos focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The Obon in Japan is a time in which it is believed the souls of the departed return to the world of the living to visit their relatives. In Cambodia, P’chum Ben, the 15th day of Pak Ben, is a celebration when many Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives.

The development of a continuing bond is conscious and changing throughout the lifecycle. Mourner’s beliefs and faith systems can affect the way in which they incorporate the departed into their lives. Some people believe that the deceased live in another dimension. Some believe in afterlife, heaven, reincarnation, or a spirit world. This list goes on. Many also believe the deceased are there to intervene and support them. Others do not depend on a faith system, but rather build a connection out of the fabric of daily life and the sense of the deceased they carry within them.

Whichever belief you hold, remember, the journey is about finding something you are comfortable with.

References

[1] Clewell, T. (2004). Mourning beyond melancholia: Freud's psychoanalysis of loss. J Am Psychoanal. Assoc. Winter; 52(1):43-67.

[2] Klass, D., Silverman, P.R., Nickman, S.L. (1996). Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief. New York, NY: Routledge.

[3] Guggenheim, B., & Guggenheim, J. (1995). Hello from heaven! New York: Bantam.

[4] Houck, J.A. (2005). The universal, multiple, and exclusive experiences of after-death communication. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 24(2), 117-127.

[5] LaGrand, L.E. (2005). The nature and therapeutic implications of the extraordinary experiences of the bereaved. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 24(1), 3-20.

[6] Long, J.P. (1999). After death communication overview. Retrieved May 15, 2016, from After Death Communication Research Foundation (ADCRF), http://www.adcrf.org/ADC%20Overview.htm.

[7] Steit-Horn, J. (2011). A systematic review of research on after-death communication (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from University of North Texas, http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc84284/m2/1/high_res_d/dissertation.pdf.

[8] Beischel, J., Mosher, C., Boccuzzi, M. (2014). The possible effects on bereavement of assisted after-death communication during readings with psychic mediums: A continuing bonds perspective. OMEGA. Vol 70(2) 169-1194, 2014-2015.

[9] Ghesquiere, A. (2012). Patterns and outcomes of bereavement support-seeking among older adults with complicated grief and bereavement-related depression (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Columbia University, http://academiccommons.columbia.edu/catalog/ac:146829.

Linda Coughlin Brooks is the SUDEP Institute Bereavement Support Facilitator; she contributes regular articles as part of our bereavement support services. You can contact Linda at sudep@efa.org. Tom is the senior information & referral specialist for the Epilepsy Foundation. You can contact Tom at ContactUs@efa.org. Watch for future articles and learn more about our support for bereaved.

Authored by: Linda Coughlin Brooks RN BSN CT | Thomas Buckley MHS on 6/2016

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