Excerpt from: The Long Grief Journey: How Long-Term Unresolved Grief Can Affect Your Mental Health and What to Do About It, by Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D., and Bradie Hansen, M.A.

Hidden Longing

It isn’t possible to love and part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal. ~ M. Forster, author of A Room with a View

One of the dominant features of complicated grief is the feeling of longing for the loved one who has died. Longing for something we cannot have can take many forms, but when it interferes with our ability to actively live in the life we have, it can become a boulder blocking the way on the long journey of grief.

One way to turn this longing into a more manageable and generative emotional experience is to understand that it is normal to feel connected to, and in relationship with, our deceased loved ones—it’s just different now. Sonya, who lost her cherished friend Marcus, described it this way:

To me death is a veil that is drawn around us. Sometimes the veil is heavy, and we cannot see through it; at other times, the veil is more transparent, and we are given glimpses to the other side. I know that I cannot pass through this veil at will, but I am grateful for the few opportunities when I can sense the presence on the other side.


Dennis Klass’s writing on the idea of continuing bonds makes plain the idea that people rather naturally and organically maintain connection with their deceased loved ones. It’s not a connection talked about very openly, nor has it been part of a mainstream response to acute or long-term grieving. No matter how much we try to push against it, there exists a persistent, stubborn, and in our view abusive messaging about the importance of letting go and getting over the loss of a loved one.

When people are suffering and aching from the heartbreak of loss, the last thing they need is to have their longing for their loved one pathologized. It further isolates people in their ongoing despair, ultimately sentencing some to shame, confusion, and loneliness. We also forget that this idea of letting go and breaking ties with our deceased loved ones is rather new in relation to how healing is prescribed, borne from a more medicalized model of overcoming human suffering. As one interviewee told us:

I never got to say a proper goodbye to my father or my uncle, and it hurts to know that we will never physically be together again. Sometimes I feel like I can feel them with me if I’m lonely, through a song that comes on, or through a warm feeling. It makes me feel as though they are encouraging me to keep going because in those moments, I feel weak and need reminders that I can push through these slumps. I still can’t help but to feel connected to them as if they have not completely gone away.

So, what does this mean? How do we maintain a bond with our loved one that is generative, soothing, and helpful?

Finding New Footholds

There are ways of keeping a connection with your deceased loved one that don’t prohibit you from enjoying life and relating to other people in the here and now. Psychologist Andrea Kelly said, “When you’re thrown down deep and lose your bearings, you’re forced to find new footholds, that anchor you to yourself and your loved ones—in ways that are unexpected and need time to be discovered.”

The idea is to not shove your grief underground. Relaying stories, reflections, and memories can, as appropriate, be a part of your new life and new relationships. It is also quite normal to be triggered during special moments such as anniversaries, weddings, or graduations. If after many years you feel like grief is getting in the way of living your life with peacefulness and enjoyment, it may be wise to seek out support whether through therapy or faith-based counseling. Other healing modalities can help you understand what you’re holding onto and why, and we can learn about how to move forward without hiding from it.

In the meantime, start here: try not to judge yourself because you still have moments of intense grief.

Maintain Your Connection

Some of us carry an incredible loyalty to our deceased loved ones, never wanting to sully or diminish their importance in our lives by letting other people in. The truth about the heart is that it is not really measured on an either-or scale. The more we open our hearts, the more we love, and there is so much space for every- one we’ve loved to take up a bit of real estate.

If you have a person in your life who you feel might struggle with your connection to your loved one, you could try explaining to them how maintaining connection is helpful to you because of your shared history. In addition, you might use your journal to communicate privately with your lost loved one. Some find it especially helpful to write to their loved one if there are concerns they want to share. The beautiful part of thoughts, prayers, wishes, and longings is that they can be yours alone and shared as you wish.

Another way to keep your loved one alive in your heart is to prepare food they enjoyed and then share it with others. Sending out love to them if they come into your mind is another. You might feel pulled to do things more at certain times than others. That’s okay. You might include them in prayers every night before going to sleep. That’s okay. You might enjoy a view of a sunset and invite them to notice the beauty that abounds. That’s okay, too. The key is, you are still living your life. You are doing things that are important to you. You are tending to your relationships and those things you value, while actively carrying your love in your heart. They can coexist.

Actively Connecting isn’t for Everyone

Just like in life, the way we stay connected to our loved ones who have died is personal and unique to the relationship. While some people might want to maintain connection in a similar way as you, others might not, and this can create tension at times when all anyone needs and wants is calm and peace.

Many have been offended that no one wants to accompany them to their weekly, monthly, or yearly cemetery visit. Tears have been shed and family cut off because some don’t want to talk about the deceased as much as others do. If you step back and really think on this, isn’t it better that each person be in control of how they manage their grief and connection with the deceased?

If you want to make sure your lost loved one is a presence at family functions or on special occasions, you can, but in a way that honors the boundaries of others in attendance. You can light candles with your loved one in mind. You can put out pictures and just let them be there, without much ado. Or you can make dates with yourself to visit gravesites or places you hold dear, and you can invite those who you know would enjoy and welcome that excursion, being sure not to take offense if they decline the gesture.

The key is this: don’t expect others to grieve and stay connected in the same way as you, and make sure not to take over someone else’s event by insisting on symbolic expressions for your loved one. Own your own process and abide by it in a way that lets others have their own. Then, you will be honoring yourself, your deceased loved one, and those who you share your grief with.

Talking Aloud to the Deceased

An ongoing relationship with your deceased spouse can be a wonderful comfort. Won’t it make matters worse for someone to talk with the dead, you ask? Do you have to consult a medium or psychic, hold a seance? Do you have to meditate, change your religious beliefs? No. All you need to do is communicate—silently.

Jennifer told us that she still silently communicates with her partner, and it has been eighteen years since her sudden death.

She’s my parking angel. It started when our son was taking karate lessons, and I had trouble finding a space anywhere near his classes. One day, this time out loud, I said, “Please, honey, can you help us find a space?” To the amazement of my son and I, a space opened up immediately in front of the karate studio. After that, whenever I had something import- ant to do with my son, I’d ask for her help. Is this communication and help from the other side real? I don’t know. But I know I enjoy the possibility and the connection.

How can you make this kind of communication happen? The only advice we can give is to allow yourself to be open to the possibility—to not negate the signs or communications if they happen spontaneously.


This is simple. Just talk (out loud or silently). Let yourself commune with the people you love and miss and don’t judge yourself for doing it. Sometimes it might be a simple “hi.” Other times, you might have a conversation. There’s no right or wrong. Just let yourself be and do what comes naturally and know that this is okay, normal, and part of a healing life process for many people.


If you feel you’ve been shortchanged and wish you knew more about your lost loved one, it can be most helpful to find information about them through the eyes and experiences of those who knew them. Gordon, for example, lost his dad when he was three. In tracking down two of his father’s old friends, he found out that his dad liked to roller skate and sing with his guitar at parties when he was a teenager! Anecdotes and stories can give you insights and information you never had. As a result, your life and memory of your loved one might become filled with added meaning, growing your relationship all the while.


Sometimes we may want to “visit” with our loved one in a tangible way, but we don’t really have a place to go or a thing to do. If you have items that belonged to your loved one or remind you of them, you might consider making a memory box. It can be a shoe box, wooden craft box, antique chest—there is no limit! T’Mia Ross, a psychotherapist who lost her sister when she was eleven years old, made one and recommends it to others.

There are myriad ways you can do this, even if you don’t have many or any items to put in it. You can gather things that represent your loved one, write poetry, words, or reflections that capture who they were to you. You can decorate the box inside and out and add to it whenever you wish. Memories, images, dreams—there is no limit to what can be put inside. This could be an ever-changing memorial to your loved one that you visit from time to time for solace, connection, and reflection.


When a beloved member of your family dies, a hole is left in the heart of the home. The ways in which people deal with this are many and are often organic and cannot be planned. As people reclaim their homes as places new life can grow, some might struggle with guilt and fear. Or, if someone has chosen to repurpose a room that was their loved one’s, they might fear they’ve lost a touchstone. Creating a new touchstone can help. A memory table is one way to do this.

To make your own memory table you simply need:

  • A place to put pictures or items where they won’t be moved about or pushed aside. This can be a table, a mantel, or a shelf.
  • Pictures of your loved one(s). Or if you don’t have pictures, some item that symbolizes their presence.
  • Other items that might speak to you and that you can touch or hold.

The rest is up to you and your style. Some people like to keep fresh flowers on their table. Others light incense or add things to it that are relevant to holidays or religious rites or practices. It can be organic and ever changing, and it can be your new touchstone.


Taking advantage of days that are already in the cultural calendar is an opportunity for connection with your loved one. All over the world, there are specific days and even months that are devoted to tending to and holding space for the dead. You don’t have to be of a particular faith to recognize these times or participate in them, although many of them are steeped in religious ritual and tradition.

As an example, Roman Catholics typically observe All Souls’ Day. But when looking at the history of the day and how it corresponds to Halloween and to the end of harvest season, we can see that it is tied to a long history of people ritualizing the ebb and flow of life and death and our place in nature. Even those who are not Catholic can participate in this ancient flow.


Many find comfort in sorting out where their lived experience fits into the larger landscape of family survival and family loss and is often a tremendous and powerful story. What people have survived over time is remarkable and you—we—are all part of that story.

Dear Reader: This is an excerpt from The Long Grief Journey, a book all about how we navigate the road of living with grief. Something I’ve come to understand is that relating to our loved ones who have died is an ongoing process that we can actively participate in. How I connect with my mom now is different than how I did last year or the year before that. Shared here are examples of how we might engage with our loved ones and maintain connection with them.

Excerpted from The Long Grief Journey: How Long-Term Unresolved Grief Can Affect Your Mental Health and What to Do About It (Compassionate Grief Book for Healing After Loss): Blair, Pamela D., McCabe Hansen, Bradie: 9781728262666: Amazon.com: Books

Bradie Hansen

Bradie McCabe Hansen is a licensed psychologist- Master, who’s been in private practice for over twenty years. She has worked with children, adolescents, and adults, especially around issues to do with depression, anxiety, grief, addictive or abusive use of substances, developmental transitions, and trauma. She is the co-author of the newly released book The Long Grief Journey: How Long-Term Unresolved Grief Can Affect Your Mental Health and What to Do About It as well as the article “The Wisdom of Regret”, published in the Assisi Institute Journal. In addition to Bradie’s clinical work, she teaches weaving and helps to manage the fiber studio at the Shelburne Craft School in Shelburne, Vermont. Certified as an Archetypal Pattern Analyst and a Weaving a Life Leader, Bradie has the unique opportunity to help people use weaving and fiber craft to work through life stages and passages, grief, and moments of choice. As a psychologist, Bradie worked with individuals around complex life experiences for many years, but it was the sudden and traumatic loss of her mother in 2017 that opened her eyes to the lived experience of long-term, complicated grief. Grief altered her capacity to socialize, complete mundane errands, and carry on with many of the responsibilities that had previously been part of day-to-day life. After a particularly challenging time of sleeplessness and stress all to do with the rigors of grieving, she found herself learning how to weave on a four-harness, counterbalance floor loom that had come into her possession. Her teacher showed her how to thread every heddle, and sley every dent in the reed. The repetitive and mindful motions required for dressing a loom helped her find her way back to herself. While Bradie was already teaching children about the wonderful world of handcrafting, the gifts she received from weaving were expanded, and she now tries to bring the healing potential of handcrafting to clients and students. Bradie shares, “There was no thinking my way out of the pain I was feeling. No problem solving could get me through it. No timeline applied. But engaging in something as tangible as weaving helped me to connect with myself and with the threads that connect all people to each other. Weaving is a part of our ancestral DNA. Through the simple process of interlacing threads, I was able to weave comfort over my broken heart and find my way back to community and my own creativity. Now, I just want to share that gift that I received when I was at my lowest point with other people.” You can reach Bradie through her website: www.healinghandcrafting.com and you can find her book, The Long Grief Journey, on Amazon. Additionally, Bradie and her co-author Pamela Blair will be regularly contributing to the Long Grief Journey Blog which you can find here: https://thelonggriefjourney.com/blog-2/

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