Continuing Bonds: A Grief Journal Exercise

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Litsa Williams

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So, the plan was to post on forgiveness yesterday... But, no surprise, forgiveness is a super complicated topic and I got sucked into a black hole of thinking, researching, and writing waaaay too much. By last night, the post was around 3,200 words (and that's after I had cut out at least 1,000 words...). In case you aren't tuned in to word counts, let me just say that 3,200 words is A LOT for an online article--even for us!  So, new plan: I will take this weekend to wrangle that forgiveness piece into something manageable and, today, I'll post about a grief journal exercise that meets continuing bonds that meets a great quote from Billy Joe Shaver. Ready. Set. Go.

The other morning, I was driving in to work and heard an interview on NPR with Billy Joe Shaver. No, that isn't the guy from Green Day. He is a 75-year-old country music writer who has written some pretty famous songs performed by some pretty famous musicians. Near the end of the interview, Billy Joe (yes, we're on a first-name basis now that I have listened to that interview) began talking about his son and writing partner, who died of a drug overdose nearly 15 years ago. He still talks to his son when he is on stage performing and, in the interview, he talked about how his son is still with him, saying:

"I do believe when people die their goodness, the good things they've done, it seems like they melt into your likeness and you become a better person for it."  

Billy Joe Shaver

The minute he said it it rang so true for me: Our loved ones' goodness does melt into us. It does make us better people. It is just easy to forget that when we are randomly bursting into tears in public, or struggling to get off the sofa.

A while back we wrote about continuing bonds. If you missed it, you should go check it out here. Or, here are the Cliffs Notes: Continuing bonds is the theory that:

...when your loved one dies, grief isn’t about working through a linear process that ends with ‘acceptance’ or a ‘new life’ where you have moved on or compartmentalized your loved one’s memory. Rather, when a loved one dies you slowly find ways to adjust and redefine your relationship with that person, allowing for a continued bond with that person that will endure, in different ways and to varying degrees, throughout your life. 

When I heard the Billy Jo Shaver interview, a continuing bonds moment arose.  I started thinking about all the goodness in me from those who I have lost. I felt inspired to write it down, but sadly I was driving. For the safety of myself and others on the road, I refrained from pulling out a pen and paper to start writing. But, assuming you're not driving right now, I encourage you to use this quote as inspiration for your own continuing bonds journal exercise.  Consider all the goodness that "melted into you" from your loved one.  Write about the things they taught you, the values they instilled in you, and every other piece of them that is a part of you.

Click Melting Journal PDF to download the journal page seen below. Print and work on your own journal entry, thanks to Billy Jo Shaver. Or, share your thoughts in a comment, because we love comments!

melting journal page

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7 Comments on "Continuing Bonds: A Grief Journal Exercise"

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  1. G  February 29, 2016 at 12:24 pm Reply

    I am a new subscriber. Thank you for such “real” posts. I am 2 1/2 months into the grief over the loss of my husband to cancer after 44 years together. This exercise was such a positive thing – to strive to be the good person he was by listing all of his wonderful characteristics, honesty, selflessness and the list goes on.
    Thank you

  2. Vicki  August 6, 2015 at 7:40 pm Reply

    I never “felt” his presence until June of this year. He died on September 11, 2001 at work. He worked in Tower 1 of the former World Trade Center.
    My daughter had just turned 15 and was in ninth grade.
    I remember when she asked “Did his soul make it through the flames or did the fire burn it up?” And I had no answer, not knowing things like that. I asked a pastor and was met with my first instance of how people would be hostile to us, with or without meaning to in order to make sure we didn’t ask questions to which they had no ‘satisfactory’ reply and felt uncomfortable hearing.
    Our grief had the biggest impact on our former religion, which was Christian. My daughter stopped having a relationship with a god of her understanding and I stopped praying the way I used to, no longer asking for safety of my family like I had on September 10.
    I hope this doesn’t offend people but this is largely what my grief has been like from the spiritual aspect. When your teenage daughter gets distressed every day for a year after the incident and doesn’t want you to go to work “in case you die too,” it changes the type of relationship you have with a “higher power” or did with me and my daughter.

  3. Chelsea Hanson  August 29, 2014 at 1:23 pm Reply

    I do use the term “new life,” but I mean a different life…a life after the grief and a life after loss that can still be fulfilling…a life of meaning that can be your way of honoring the beloved person who died…a life where the person is with you in a “new” and different way…Great info as always!

  4. Jenna  August 18, 2014 at 10:33 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for your continuing, regular posts on a wide range of topics. Getting your posts in my email is grounding and feels supportive even though we don’t know each other. It also helps me to create space to think about my mom in a healthy way, instead of just pushing the loss of her out of my mind.

    • Litsa  August 19, 2014 at 10:54 pm Reply

      Jenna, I am so glad our posts are a help. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. When you write a blog you just never know who out there in the ethos you are reaching, so it means a lot to us to know there are people out there 🙂 I am so sorry for the loss of your mom. Take care!!

  5. Nathalie Himmelrich  August 10, 2014 at 8:29 am Reply

    Thank you, Litsa. This is a great input and I love the fact that it’s simple. Lovely page to journal…
    Litsa, I’m trying to send you and Eleanor some chapters of my forthcoming book for peer review. I had asked you previously and you posted an email address for me to send it to but I can’t find it – would you post it again or send me an email? Thank you. Nathalie

    • Litsa  August 10, 2014 at 8:12 pm Reply

      Hi, of course Nathalie. The best email to reach us is

      Glad you like the exercise. Sometimes my favorite writing exercises are the most simple!

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