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Grappling with Grief

Updated: Mar 30

By Ali Mayer, LCSW - Cityscape Therapist


Most of us are familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ theory regarding the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. What most people don’t know is that those grief stages actually were first developed for terminally ill patients processing their own death. The theory was later adapted as a way for loved ones to process and understand grief and loss.


While these grief stages are extremely beneficial to conceptualizing and understanding the grief process, the idea of moving through that process doesn’t always feel tangible to people when facing their own losses. William Worden’s work focuses on the “how” in terms of grieving and teaches us how to find equilibrium after a loss.


Worden’s four “tasks of mourning” address the emotional concepts that linger during and after a loss, and how to move forward without feeling like you have abandoned the memory of your loved one. Many people hesitate to reach the “acceptance” stage of grief, due to fear that acceptance will disconnect them from the memories. Worden has found a way to reconcile acceptance, living a life worth living, and honoring your loved one’s memory.


The Tasks:


Task 1: Accept the reality of the loss.


I know, this one doesn’t seem super easy. This involves whole-heartedly accepting the loss with your mind, body, and soul. Initiating this process involves facing the closure of that person’s life, be it in the form of a funeral, wake, journal entry, or any way that you feel like you can thoughtfully say goodbye to this loved one. Worden emphasizes that the foundational aspect of healing begins with acceptance.


Task 2: Process your emotional experience.


This task involves embracing any and all emotional, physical, and spiritual experiences resulting from the loss. Invite any emotional experiences during this time period without judgment. This might look like crying to a friend, spending quality time with living loved ones, joining a support group, taking a hot bath, punching a pillow, writing out your feelings, or simply holding yourself and crying. The important piece of this is not to avoid the pain, but to welcomeit. Pain is important for healing.


Task 3: Adjust to the world without your loved one.


I know, this one hurts. But the truth is, you can’t find a sense of inner peace and wholeness if you aren’t taking steps to live in this new world without your loved one. Go back to work or school, find a daily routine, and take steps to show yourself that your loved one is no longer in your life in the same way. This might mean deleting their number out of your contacts, or making new plans with friends without your loved one. Without pursuing task three, you might find yourself stuck in a grief hole that perpetuates daily suffering.


Task 4: Find a way to maintain a connection to your lost loved one while embracing your new life.


This task is about threading a healthy connection of your loved one into your new life without them. This might look like visiting their gravesite, starting or contributing to a charity in their name, or holding traditions to honor the memory of your loved one.

A “loved one” can take on many forms. Many people may find the above steps helpful with resolving grief of lost family members, friends, support systems, and relatives, as well as grieving beloved animals (they are as much a part of the family as you are!) Moving through the tasks of grief can help people create a life worth living while honoring the memory of the loss and holding gratitude for the impact that loved one had on your life.


Cityscape Counseling provides in-person/in-office AND online therapy in Chicago to individuals with a range of mental health concerns.

Email: nicoleb@cityscapecounseling.com our intake director to set up an online therapy or in-person/office session at our Chicago location.


References


Kübler-Ross E. On Death and Dying (Routledge, 1969).

(Worden, J. W. (2009). Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, Fourth Edition, Springer, N.Y.)

4 Tasks of Mourning. (2016, July 30). Retrieved from http://www.thebeautifulmemories.com/articles/4-tasks-mourning/.

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