We often hear the phrase we must do the work to move forward in our grief journey. But what exactly is the work? While everyone grieves in their own unique way, Psychologist J. William Worden provides a framework of four tasks that help us understand how people move through grief in a healthy way. Healing happens gradually as grievers address these tasks, in no specific order, going back and forth from one to another over time. Depending on where you are in your grief journey, some of the stages may appear impossible to even consider and that is normal and understandable. The journey is not linear and there is no timeline for grieving.
Task 1: To Accept the Reality of the Loss
Although you know intellectually that the person has died, you may experience a sense of disbelief. Integrating the reality of their death means “taking it in” with your whole being.
Task 2: To Experience the Pain of Grief
Grief is experienced emotionally, cognitively, physically, and spiritually. People may be telling you: “Get over it; move on; be strong.” In contrast, one of the aims of grief support groups is to encourage and facilitate the safe expression of all the natural grief reactions.
Task 3: To Adjust to a New Environment Without your Loved One
External adjustments include taking on responsibilities and learning new skills. Internal adjustments are made as you adapt to your new identity. Spiritual adjustments occur as you grapple with questions about your belief system and the purpose and meaning of life.
Task 4: Reinvest in the New Reality
To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on the new normal that is your life without your loved one in it.
Nora McInerny shares the following about what she learned after losing her husband and child. “A grieving person is going to laugh again and smile again,” she says. “They’re going to move forward. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve moved on.”
In sharing the 4 tasks of grief, we hope we have offered a compassionate roadmap for you to consider in your journey.
(Based on Worden, J. W. (2009). Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, Fourth Edition, Springer, N.Y.)