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Tasks of Mourning

Dr. J. William Worden, author and researcher on bereavement issues, has identified four tasks of mourning:

Task One: To Accept the Reality of the Loss
It can be very difficult to believe that "it" really happened but making this important step is crucial to our walk through grief.

Task Two: To Experience the Pain of Grief
It has been said that to get to the other side of grief we can't walk around it, that we must walk through it. Allowing ourselves to feel what we are feeling, to cry when we must, and to feel the pain of sorrow are important.

Task Three: To Adjust to an Environment in Which the Deceased is Missing In our acceptance of the reality of our loss, we must develop new skills and interests to fill the void. Whether it is learning car maintenance routines or learning how to cook, we begin taking responsibility for ourselves as new single people.

Task Four: To Withdraw Emotional Energy and Reinvest it in Other Activities; Memorialize the Relationship. While they were living, much of our energy may have been focused on our loved one. Now that they are gone, we must direct that energy into new placesnew interests, new friends. Perhaps we will re-prioritize other relationships, such as our children and grandchildren, our jobs. Remember to direct some of that energy toward taking good care of yourself.

While the idea may seem strange, develop a new relationship with your deceased loved one. While the deceased may not be with us in person, they can have a place in our lives. Consider this quote from Thomas Campbell: "To live in hearts we leave behind, is not to die."

Normal Reactions to Loss

Grief differs based on who we are, whom we have lost, and how much our day-to-day life is altered by the death. A normal reaction to loss, grief is unique in its impact, course and meaning to each of us. Experiencing the loss of a partner, a parent or sibling, or a lifelong friend, with whom we share history, often have special meaning to us.

Thinking about reactions to the loss of a loved one, we tend to think only of the emotional reactions. Yet, people also experience physical and behavioral reactions. The intensity of grief changes over time and through personal growth. Some of the most typical emotional, physical, and behavioral reactions include the following:

Immediate ReactionsThe first few weeks following death

Emotional

Physical

Behavioral

Shock

Numbness

Denial

Relief

Shortness of breath

Disorientation

Release

Heavy chest

Crying

 

Empty feeling

Listlessness

Later ReactionsAfter the shock wears off, you begin to feel your feelings once again

Emotional

Physical

Behavioral

Anger

Chest pains

Over-reactive

Fear

Lack of energy

Hyper-sensitive

Guilt

Headaches

Running

Panic

Fatigue

Sleeplessness

Loneliness

Vulnerability to illness

Isolation

Depression

Tension

Need to relive death

AdjustmentA time when you think you are going to "make it"

Emotional

Physical

Behavioral

Taking responsibility

Looking forward

Exploring new interests

Reconstructing your life

Doing things for oneself

Personal growth

Remember everyone's reactions and grief are different. The above lists are guides and should not be considered all-inclusive. If you are in doubt about some of your reactions or those of a loved one, consult your physician or mental health practitioner. If outside help is needed, don't be afraid to ask for it.

Permission to Mourn

Too often in our society, death is a subject to be avoided, ignored, even denied. Which leaves many mourners stifling public displays of emotion, instead of valuing them as a way to begin healing.

Whatever your cultural or ethnic background, and whenever your emotions rush to the surface, you may be surprised at how little encouragement you are given to truly vent your grief. Letting the pain show can be especially difficult for men. Our social expectation of men is that they will be strong and silent. This gives them little room to express pain.

You need to give yourself permission to mourn. Postponing a confrontation with your feelings by filling each day with frantic activity will only delay and compound the grief reaction. It can be useful to remember that when one suffers a great loss, it is a sign of strength, not weakness, to be able to express emotions.

For some, the rituals of mourning such as a wake or holding a memorial service provide an important beginning to the grieving process by giving social and spiritual support to the expression of despair.

Some people are encouraged to vocalize their feelings, to weep, to wail, to grieve loudly and publicly at the funeral or memorial service. Others are expected to remain detached, to keep "a stiff upper lip," and wear a mask of composure. Or, you may be feeling surprisingly composed. You may have no strong feelings at this point. You may be in shock, numbed by your loss.

We tend to experience grief as we do other stressors in life. If you are an emotional person, you will feel strong emotions; if you are more rational, you will tend to rationalize or think through the grief. If you find comfort in being with people, you may find solace in being with others. If you are more introverted, you may find comfort in being alone or with just a few close friends who truly understand.

There is no one right way to experience the loss and adjust to life without the deceased. To lose your spouse, child, parent, friend, is to lose something of yourself. It is only natural to mourn such a loss. You may suffer emotions unimaginable in their intensity. But even though you are in agony, as terrible as it seems, your pain is healthy and appropriate.