The Open to Hope Foundation radio show was the first outreach strategy, and continues to be a fantastic means of support for those who have lost a loved one. In the “Continuing Bonds” episode, Drs. Gloria and Heidi Horsley talk with Brittany Trauthwein, MA, a specialist in end of life, grief and loss. Trauthwein has conducted extensive research, kick-started by her own loss of several family members. She focuses on how people continue to build and strengthen bonds after a loss, with a special emphasis on adult children who have lost a parent. It’s possible to continue that parent-child relationship, even after death.
Trauthwein lost her stepfather, which isn’t a very common discussion about loss. This is “kind of ridiculous,” says Gloria, since stepparents are often just as critical as biological or adoptive parents. Trauthwein lost her stepfather when she was 22. Her stepdad died unexpectedly at 45 of a heart attack. It took Trauthwein a lot of time to find a faculty member who would support her in qualitative studies regarding loss of a stepparent. However, her passion won out and she found the perfect match to conduct her research.
Loss is Loss, Regardless of Age or Family Dynamics
There’s no need to let go of a relationship, says Trauthwein. Instead, a loss means it’s time to re-define a relationship. However, she only found four participants, so she delved deep with hours-long interviews. “Agency played a role in continuing the relationship,” she says, which is a positive since it puts the control in the hands of survivors. “Would this matter to my father?” is an example of common questions you can ask after losing a parent.
It’s common to wear clothes that are linked to a lost loved one, or even take on certain attributes (such as telling similar jokes). “This is normal,” says Trauthwein, and a healthy way to keep relationships alive.