Bereavement and the complex tasks of grief
Grief is a natural response to loss and bereavement. Whether it's in response to the death of a loved one, the end of a significant relationship or a major life change, grief can manifest in various ways and impact our emotional, physical, and mental well-being. But how can we make sense of such a difficult and complicated experience? What can ease our way through the path it takes us on?
One way to understand this process is through a model developed by Worden, a renowned grief and loss expert. Worden proposed a model known as 'Worden's Tasks of Bereavement'. This provides a framework to understand the complex process of grieving and navigating the journey of loss. In this article, we will briefly overview these tasks, what they mean in real life and some of the challenges they raise.
Worden’s tasks of bereavement
Worden's model consists of four tasks that individuals typically have to engage with to experience and resolve grief. In contrast to other perspectives (such as the ‘stages of grief’, which you may be familiar with), these tasks do not necessarily occur in sequence. Rather, they may overlap with one another, or be revisited and reworked multiple times. While the reality of grieving is complex, the tasks offer a simpler way to understand and process their grief, providing a sense of coherence and meaning during a time of profound emotional upheaval.
Task 1: Accepting the reality of the loss
The first task in Worden's model is to accept the reality of the loss. This task involves acknowledging and coming to terms with the fact that a significant loss has occurred. It requires facing the reality of the situation and recognising that the person or thing that has been lost is no longer present in the same way. While our beliefs about what has happened to the person or relationship which is lost may be a comfort, we also need to be able to face that they are gone.
Accepting the reality of the loss can be a challenging task as it opens the door to confront the pain, shock, and disbelief that comes with losing someone or something we care about deeply. However, it is an essential step in the grieving process as it allows individuals to start processing their emotions and begin their journey towards healing.
Task 2: Experiencing the pain of grief
The second task in Worden's model is experiencing the pain of grief. Grief is often accompanied by intense emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, fear and confusion. We can at times feel uncomfortable with how we feel at times about the person who has died, especially if the relationship with them was difficult and complex. Working on this task involves allowing oneself to fully experience and express these emotions without suppressing or avoiding them.
Experiencing the pain of grief can be overwhelming and may feel like an emotional rollercoaster. It may involve crying, but it also may not. It's important to remember that these emotions, whatever they are and however they are experienced, are a natural response to loss. Allowing oneself to feel and express them is a healthy way of processing the pain. For some, these emotions are accessible and can be worked through with the support of one’s inner resources, family and friends. For others, this task may be best supported by professionals.
As well as experiencing the emotions which need to be felt, this task may also involve confronting any unfinished business or unresolved issues with the person or thing that has been lost. It may involve seeking closure, making amends, or expressing unspoken words or feelings. Similar to experiencing emotions, this can be more difficult if the relationship was complicated or difficult. However, it can be cathartic and help bring a sense of peace to issues previously unresolved.
Task 3: Adjusting to the new reality
The world post-loss is not (and cannot be) the same as the one before. The third task in Worden's model is adjusting to the new reality, whatever this may be. This involves finding a way to live and function in a world that has been fundamentally changed by the loss. It may require redefining our understanding about who we are or include taking on new responsibilities for which we feel not fully prepared.
Adjusting to the new reality can be challenging as it often involves navigating changes in various aspects of life, such as relationships, routines, and beliefs. It may involve finding new ways to cope with everyday tasks, making decisions on one's own, or re-establishing a sense of purpose and meaning. For some, the loss may also represent a set of new positive opportunities - and being able to embrace these aspects of bereavement without guilt or shame can be a challenge in itself.
During this task, it's important to be honest and patient with oneself. We likely wouldn't expect others to ‘get it right’ (whatever that means!) straight away. If we are able, we should try should extend that same compassion for ourselves. It's OK (in fact, even healthy) to take time to adjust and find a new equilibrium in the face of loss.
Task 4: Finding an enduring connection with the lost
The fourth task in Worden's model is finding an enduring connection with the lost which has meaning. This task involves developing a way to maintain a bond or a connection with the lost one while also integrating the loss into one's life in a healthy and adaptive way. It does not necessarily mean forgetting or moving on from the loss, but rather finding a way to continue the relationship in a different form. As you can imagine, this task often requires work on accepting the loss, experiencing the emotions and adjusting to a new reality before it can be engaged with fully.
An enduring connection can take various forms. These are often influenced by an individual's beliefs, culture, and personal preferences. It may involve keeping memories alive through rituals, creating memorials, or finding ways to honour and remember the person or thing that has been lost. It may also involve finding ways to carry on the values, passions, or legacies of the person or thing that has been lost, as a way of keeping their spirit alive. Examples may include cooking their favourite foods, giving to causes that were important to them, reflecting on them at certain times of the year, or visiting places that have meaning.
At the same time as maintaining bonds, finding an enduring connection with the lost also requires learning to move on from the raw pain and suffering associated with the loss. It involves finding a balance between remembering and honouring the past, while also living in the present and looking towards the future with hope and resilience. In this sense, grief is never ‘gone’ and grieving is never fully complete. Rather, the person is taking forward with you in a way which allows balance, comfort and life.
A personal experience
Grief is a personal experience which everyone navigates in a unique way. It’s also a natural process which takes time. For many people, grief evolves and resolves without intervention. However, for others it can become stuck - sometimes if the loss is keenly felt, the readjustment too much to bear alone or if the bereavement brings up difficult issues. In such circumstances, working with a trained counsellor/therapist can be an important step and a valuable investment in yourself.
As an experienced and friendly therapist, I work with clients who have experienced loss and feel they need extra support to work with their grief. Using Worden’s model as a guide, I help people facing loss engage with these four tasks. This is conducted in a safe, supportive space, at the pace of the person I am working with sets. If you feel like this could benefit you, why not reach out by sending me a message today?