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Tasks of Grieving

tasks-of-grievingAs a grief counselor, the most common question I get asked is, “What should I do to grieve ‘properly’?”

The answer is that there isn’t one right way to grieve, and as long as you aren’t doing harm to yourself or others, however you grieve is “proper” for you.

Of course, this answer is not exactly what people are looking for. As humans we want a checklist. We want a path to follow that will help us feel better once we reach the end. Unfortunately, grief doesn’t work that way.

For those who desire a more concrete answer, I have found William Worden’s “Tasks of Grieving” (from his book Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy), to be helpful in offering some direction.

These tasks aren’t in any particular order, and they may need to be revisited more than one time. Worden also stresses that there is no timeline for these tasks to be completed. Below is a brief overview of his tasks, but I recommend his book if you want to explore these ideas in more detail.

1. Accept the reality of the loss

This task, like the others, can be both taken literally and abstractly. Accepting the reality of the loss may be going through a funeral or good-bye ritual. On a more abstract level, it might involve accepting the manner of death and also the significance of the relationship lost.

2. To work through to the pain of grief

There is no short cut around grief. We cannot circumvent the pain, but instead, we must go through it for it to lessen. We need to acknowledge and understand the wide variety of emotions that come with grief. Our society tends to be uncomfortable with showing strong and negative emotions, so this task can sometimes feel awkward and difficult.

3. To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing

While this may seem obvious, it often takes a very long time to do, and can take a lot of emotional energy. It needs to be done on an external/physical level, but also needs to be acknowledged on an internal and a spiritual level.

4. To emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life

While I don’t approve of the phrase “move on,” Worden makes the point that we often invest so much emotional energy in our deceased loved one that we aren’t able to invest emotional energy into life or other relationships. Living that way will always leave us feeling depleted and grief stricken.

In general, Worden encourages us to find a way to emotionally connect with the deceased, but also to re-engage with the living as fully as possible. Don’t worry if these tasks don’t seem to work for you or don’t seem right for your situation. Our grief is as unique as the life of the loved one we lost.



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