Grief, Continuing Bonds, and Unreciprocated Love

Southern Journal of Philosophy 60 (3):413-436 (2022)
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The widely accepted “continuing bonds” model of grief tells us that rather than bereavement necessitating the cessation of one’s relationship with the deceased, very often the relationship continues instead in an adapted form. However, this framework appears to conflict with philosophical approaches that treat reciprocity or mutuality of some form as central to loving relationships. Seemingly the dead cannot be active participants, rendering it puzzling how we should understand claims about continued relationships with them. In this article, we resolve this tension by highlighting two fundamental aspects of paradigmatic loving relationships that can, and often do, continue in an adapted form following bereavement: love and mutual shaping of interests, choices, and self-concepts. Attention to these continuing features of relationships helps to capture and clarify the phenomenological and behavioral features of continuing bonds. However, love and mutual shaping must also change in important ways following bereavement. Love becomes unreciprocated, and although the dead continue to shape our interests, choices, and self-concepts, we predominantly shape their legacies and memories in return. These changes place important constraints upon the nature of our interpersonal connections with the dead.

Author Profiles

Becky Millar
Cardiff University
Pilar Lopez-Cantero
Tilburg University


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