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The Four Tasks of Mourning  by William Worden, Ph.D.

Grief takes time. It is an ongoing process of healing, growth and integration. In his book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, William Worden, Ph.D describes four tasks of mourning:

1. To Accept the Reality of the Loss
After a death, it takes time for us to accept the reality of what has happened. You may feel dazed or numb, and the death may seem unreal. This is because it takes time for our emotions to catch up with what reality tells us has happened. During this task of mourning, you may hear your loved ones voice, feel their presence or see them in their favorite chair. You may even continue to buy special foods that your loved one once enjoyed or look forward to sharing the events of the day. You may swing between belief and disbelief, but with each day that your loved one is not there you gradually face the inescapable reality that the person is gone and will not return.

2. To Experience the Pain of Grief
As the loss and its impact become more real, you will begin to feel the grief. You may experience waves of sorrow, explosions of rage, guilt, confusion, anxiety, physical symptoms, despair and helplessness. The level of pain you experience and its duration will depend on the nature of your loss as well as your individuality personality. This task of mourning also takes time. When a person has been an integral part of our lives for years, the pain of losing him/her cannot be experienced all at once. Even if our feelings for the loved one were a mixture of love and hate, the loss will have a profound impact on us. We may feel the pain of losing not only what we had, but what we never had as well. In order to complete this second task, you must be willing to experience the pain of your grief. The problem with this task is that many people try to avoid it or minimize it. The pain of grief can feel overwhelming at times, coming in waves. During this task many people find it helpful to get additional support from trusted friends, family, church, grief support groups, or professional counselors.

3. To Adjust to a World without the Person Who Died
It will probably take a considerable amount of time to realize what it is like to live without your loved one. With her or him no longer here, you may face a new and unfamiliar world. The deceased no longer fills the same role he or she once had in your life. In addition, your once familiar role as daughter, son, spouse, sibling, parent or friend has changed. You may need to develop new routines, assume new responsibilities, learn new skills and interact with people in new ways. In some cases you may need to become accustomed to a whole new life. This process of discovery and adaptation is the third task of mourning.

4. To Emotionally Relocate the Deceased and Move on with Life
This final task of mourning involves a gradual emotional withdrawal from your deceased loved one so that this emotional energy can be reinvested in meaningful loving relationships with the living. This does not mean that you will stop loving the person who has died or stop treasuring the memories. However, you will no longer need to feel such intense, painful emotions when you think of your loved one. This frees up your energy and allows you to rediscover your ability to love and to be loved and to reinvest yourself in that which is meaningful.
The above tasks do not necessarily follow a specific order and you may move in and out of them. Once again, remember that each person grieves in his or her own way.

The period of mourning following the death of your loved one is perhaps one of the most profound and challenging times in your life. It is work and it is sometimes exhausting. Remember to treat yourself gently and with respect.


Please call me at 707-326-5760 or email me at to make an appointment, or to set up a 15 minute Phone Consultation at no charge.

Sonoma therapist Diane DuBois
Sonoma Therapist Diane DuBois

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