Grief comes in many forms. We grieve when someone we love dies, but mourning is also a crucial part of healing from other types of losses such as losing a job, relationship, or home; falling ill or sustaining a serious injury; or losing one’s sense of safety, security, or freedom.
As we near the end of a calendar year marked by unprecedented stressors - a worldwide pandemic, lockdowns, economic uncertainty, political and social unrest - it feels like an appropriate time to take stock of what we have lost. That may sound like an exercise in pessimism, but the work of grieving can actually prepare us to move forward with greater wisdom, compassion, and insight into who we are and what matters most to us.
It is only by moving through grief that we are able to heal (and even grow) from our loss. In his book Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, psychologist William Worden offers a way to do just that. His task-based model of grief empowers individuals to actively participate in the work of grieving. It is a helpful guide for integrating grief (in other words: making our losses part of us without letting them consume us).
Let’s take a look at how Worden’s Four Tasks of Grieving can help you make sense of loss - whether it’s the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, a dream, a role, a relationship, ability, or beyond.
Accept the reality of the loss. After a major loss, some form of denial is common. It can even help us by buffering us from the full brunt of grief until we are ready to cope with it. However, it is not healthy to stay in denial long-term. In order to deal with a loss, one has to fully accept that it has happened and acknowledge its finality.
Process the pain of the loss. We process grief in various ways: by talking about it, writing about it, crying about it, or simply by experiencing it. The idea here is that we cannot avoid pain forever; when we try to push it down or distract ourselves from it, we only delay the inevitable. Imagine trying to hold a giant beach ball underwater. It takes a lot of effort to keep it there, and eventually your arms will get tired and it will rush up to the surface - maybe even smacking you in the face. On the other hand, when we allow ourselves to express our grief as it arises, it naturally works its way through us, like a wave cresting and receding.
Adjust to the new reality. Life is different after a loss. In the wake of a death, loved ones may struggle to adapt to new roles, new routines, new feelings, new traditions, new language (using the past tense instead of the present, or widow instead of wife). The same is true of other types of losses. For example, think of all the ways life is different since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We have had to change the way we socialize, work or go to school, exercise, grocery shop. These adjustments aren’t easy; be patient with yourself and seek support as you learn to navigate your new reality.
Find an enduring connection to who (or what) has been lost, while moving forward toward a new life. Often people who are grieving feel pressure to “let go” or “move on” from their loss. While we don’t want to get stuck in our grief, we also need to acknowledge that what was lost will always be a part of us. It is important to honor the impact that person, job, dream, or relationship had on your life. Let them be the gifts and lessons that guide you as you look towards the future.
Everyone responds to loss differently. Some navigate these tasks fairly easily, while others can find themselves feeling stuck or even overwhelmed. Wherever you’re at in your grieving process, it can be helpful to work through the tasks in therapy. If you’re struggling to cope with grief and loss of any form, contact us today and we can connect you to a trained and supportive counselor.