Grief Healing With the Four Tasks of Mourning

Download the 4 Tasks of Mourning PDF.

It is oftentimes helpful for those who are Grieving and working toward Grief Healing to learn and adopt a framework for their Grief. There are many Grief theories, and I imagine I’ve studied quite a few. J. William Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning happens to be the one that resonates with me the most and what I teach.

The idea of Tasks is different than the idea of Stages, and it’s an important difference so hang in with me. Stages imply a linear path to healing; I start in Step One, accomplish that and move onto Step Two, accomplish that and move on, and so forth. Never do I revisit stages, so once I’m on Stage Three, I would never revisit Stage One or Two. And, when I somehow make it to the last Stage, I’m magically healed! Now, I will say that in all of the grief work & groups that I’ve facilitated, no one ever has said to me that the Stage concept is an accurate representation of their grief.

So, now that you hopefully have a better understanding of Stages, let me help you get on the Tasks bandwagon. When you have a few Tasks, you immediately see that there is something you can actively do and accomplish. Additionally, unlike Stages that require you to move through in a set order, Tasks do not necessarily follow a specific order, although, as you read them through below, you’ll likely see that the order in which they are presented tends to make sense for a lot of us.

And, when you’re able to work on the Tasks with a therapist or within a grief group (in-person or on Facebook!), they can be less overwhelming and offer hope that there is a way through it. Truly, following the Tasks requires effort…. this is the “Grief Work” you might hear mentioned.

Read through the Tasks below and drop a comment. Do you agree with this framework? Are you working on the Tasks? Which one? Are you stuck?

Accept the Reality of the Loss

When someone dies, even if the death is expected, there is a sense that it hasn’t happened. The first task of grieving is to face the reality that the person is dead, that the person is gone and will not return, that reunion in this life is impossible. Denying the facts of the loss, the meaning of the loss, or the irreversibility of the loss only serves to prolong the grief process.

Work thru the Pain

Many people try to avoid the painful feelings in various ways such as “being strong”, moving away, avoiding painful thoughts, “keeping busy”, etc. There is no adaptive way of avoiding it. You must allow yourself to experience and express your feelings. Anger, guilt, loneliness, anxiety, and depression are among the feelings and experiences that are normal during this time. Be assured that the memory of your loved one will continue, but the pain will lessen in time.

Adjust to a New Environment

This means different things to different people, depending on what the relationship was. Many survivors, especially widowed persons, resent or fear to have to develop new skills and to take on roles that were formerly performed by the deceased. The emotions involved in letting go are painful but necessary to experience. By not doing so, you will remain stuck in the grief process and unable to resolve your loss.

Withdraw Emotional Energy & Reinvest in Other Relationships

The final task is to affect an emotional withdrawal from the deceased person so that this emotional energy can be used in continuing a productive life. This does not necessarily mean finding a new spouse, surrogate mother, etc. It does mean re-entering the stream of life without your deceased loved one. You must rebuild your own ways of satisfying your social, emotional, and practical needs by developing new or changed activities or relationships. This is NOT dishonoring the memory of the deceased and doesn’t mean that you love him or her any less. It simply recognizes that there are other people and things to be loved and you are capable of loving.

Adapted from: Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy by J. William Worden, Ph.D