Losing a loved one is one of the most personal and painful experiences that we face in our lives. In the aftermath of a loss, it is easy to get stuck in the pain and feelings of overwhelm and avoid the process of mourning the loss. While grief is a difficult and process, it is also a healthy one. Based on William Worden’s book, Grief Counseling and Grief therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, there are four tasks of mourning. The four tasks of mourning focuses on what you can do, rather than what happens to you in the grief process. The four tasks of mourning include: accepting the reality of the loss, processing the pain of grief, adjusting to the world without the deceased, and finding an enduring connection with the deceased amid embarking on a new life.
Accepting the reality of the loss, can feel like an enormous task after someone we love dies. Acceptance means you acknowledge your new reality involving. It is important to remember that there is no timeline, and no end date to mourning a loss, but accepting the loss is essential to moving forward. Denial will not change the reality of the loss, but it will complicate the grieving process.
The second task is to process the pain of grief. This task asks a person to sit with the pain felt after the loss of a loved one and not to engage in behaviors that are meant to dull the pain or avoid the pain. Sitting with intense emotional pain is difficult and we generally try to avoid it at all costs. Sometimes we try and avoid, self-medicate, and deny to make the pain subside. The problem with this is the more we avoid, self-medicate and deny, the more we hinder the healing process. One of the biggest misconceptions of grief is “Time heals all things”. It is less about time, and more about what we do with the time that heals. If we don’t sit with and process these emotions, this can develop into avoidance and numbing, which can lead to prolonged and complicated grief. Lean into the emotion and working through processing. It can help to turn to a trusted friend, therapist, etc. to help you process these emotions. Journaling, drawing, the use of listening or playing music are also helpful ways to process emotions. Please remind yourself that whatever it is you are feeling is appropriate and expected.
The third task, adjusting to the world without the deceased, is multifaceted and includes three specific areas of adjustment. These areas are external adjustments, internal adjustments, and spiritual adjustments. External adjustments might include living alone in a house, or taking care of financial responsibilities for the first time. Internal adjustments refer to adjusting to a new sense of self. This may look like a caregiver needing to adjust his or her view of themselves when they are no longer filling the role of caregiver after the person has died. Spiritual adjustments include values and religious beliefs. A person who had always been religious might question how God could take their loved one away from them.
The fourth task, finding an enduring connection without the deceased, while embarking on a new and altered life without them. After someone close to us dies, our lives go on without them and their absence intensifies our longing to have them with us. One way to keep the connection strong is to keep up with traditions that had meaning for you and your loved one. For example, maybe there are recipes, songs, or movies that remind you of your lost loved one. You can incorporate these memories and associations in future holidays, or vacations, and make new memories with them while honoring your loved one. There was someone who loved watching the NCAA tournament with her dad every year. After her dad died, she kept that tradition alive by watching with friends. After she married and had children, she used that tradition as a way for her husband and children to know her father in a way that they did not get to know with him personally. Keeping the love and joy that you shared with your loved one can provide comfort throughout your life. Many people find great comfort in finding meaning in the loss through things like organ donation, starting a foundation in honor of their loved one, or running a marathon in their honor.
There is no roadmap to grieving a loss and the journey is different for each of us. After losing a loved one, rely on family and friends to help you process the loss. If you find you need more support than what you have, grief therapy is always an option. Look inward to process your deepest feelings about your lost loved one and find ways to express your feelings with words, art, or music. Mourning a loss is a process that takes time and support from others. It can take trial and error to discover what fits best for you and feels most authentic. Be patient, take time with it, and talk to your primary supports during this time.