Worden believed that people who are grieving the loss of someone could take an active role in their mourning process. He espoused that “it is essential that the grieving person accomplish these tasks before mourning can be completed” (Worden, 2002). Without the completion of these tasks the person can become stuck in their mourning and develop physical, emotional, and mental problems. Like Kubler-Ross’ stages Worden’s tasks are not necessarily processed in a sequential order.
Tasks of Mourning
• Task 1 To accept the Reality of the Loss
The first task is to come full-face with the reality that the person is dead, that the person is gone and will not return. When denial can no longer be used to negate the feelings of loss, the task of accepting the loss must be faced. “Coming to an acceptance that the reality of the loss takes time since it involves not only an intellectual acceptance but also an emotional one” (Worden, 2002). Many people who have sustained a loss will become involved in searching behavior. For example misidentifying others in the street as the deceased or calling out for your loved one. It takes time to fully accept the loss and each person undertakes this task differently, depending upon their traditions, beliefs, and the support of others.
• Task 2: Work through Pain of Grief/Not to Feel
This can be a difficult task to work through depending on the societal beliefs in which the person is surrounded by and internalised. The pain of losing someone can be so intense and often others do not know what to do when someone is expressing their painful feelings. It is important in working though this task that the grieving person can find an accepting person with whom they can share their painful feelings. Parkes believes that “it is necessary for the bereaved to go through the pain. Anything that allows the person to avoid or suppress this pain can be expected to prolong the course of mourning). It’s impossible to lose someone you have deeply love and attached to without experiencing some level of pain. Newly bereaved can be unprepared to deal with the sheer force and nature of emotions that follow a loss. Society can interrupt this process with platitudes that can collude with the mourner’s own defenses. Affects need to be processed and anxiety, anger, guilt and loneliness are common feelings that the mourner experiences.
• Task 3: To adjust to an environment in, which the deceased is missing
This task is undertaken at 3 different levels for the person mourning…
What exactly has been lost, a sexual partner, companion, accountant, gardener, baby-minder, bed warmer. New tasks and responsibilities may have to be learned by the person mourning. What someone else did is now the responsibility of the person left behind.
Fundamentally, how does the death affect self-definition, self- esteem, and one’s sense of self-efficacy? Who am I now? The mourning person is thus challenged to develop a new sense of self without the identity of the person they lost. They must now look at their own life without the attachment to the other person. The task can be difficult for people who have based their identity on the other person. In order to complete this task of mourning the person must now re-define who they are and take control of their own world without the help of the loved one.
Neimeyer (1999) writes that death can shake the foundations of one’s assumptive world that there can be a loss of direction in life. The loss challenges one’s fundamental life values & philosophical beliefs – families, peers, education and religion. “The bereaved person searches for meaning in the loss of and its attendant life changes in order to make sense of it and to regain some control of his or her life” (Worden, 2002). Once the person finds meaning in the loss, it becomes easier to complete the task of adjusting to life without their loved one.
• Task 4 To emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life
Freud believed that the task of mourning was to detach memories from the dead (Freud, 1913. p.65). However contemporary clinicians posit that the 4th Task concerns finding a place for the deceased that will enable the mourner to be connected, but in a way that will not preclude him/her from going on with life. The idea of “continuing bonds” with the deceased (Klass, Silverman & Nickman, 1996). If the person does not accept the death and continue to hold onto the relationship in the same way they did before the person died, they do not allow the completion of this task. A new relationship with the deceased must be formed in a way that allows the person to acknowledge their history together, their continued love for the person, and their memories of the loved one. Bereaved individuals want to stay connected to loved ones through, dreams, visiting the grave, talking to the dead or keepsakes (transitional linking objects – Winnicott)
Volkan (1985) stressed “we can never purge those who have been close to us from our own history except by psychic acts damaging to our own identity (p.326).