This is Part 1 of a 6 Part Series on the Tasks of Mourning by J. William Worden. But don’t worry about the word “tasks”, this doesn’t mean YOU have to think about WORKING the tasks. I believe that your psychological immune system is already working them. (Important to note: This is not how Dr. Worden presents them, it’s how I think of them and I how I talk about them to my clients and it helps). Sometimes you will be conscious of doing these tasks, but more often than not, this is what is happening in your unconscious (that is why you are so tired, confused, forgetful and can’t focus). Even though they are numbered tasks, I believe they are all happening at the same time or maybe like popcorn in the popcorn popper of your psyche.
Task I: Accepting the Reality of the Loss
It seems straight forward, right? You know he’s dead or you were with her when she died. But even when it happens and you witness it with your own eyes, there is this weird feeling like it didn’t happen. That truth that he or she actually died is so shocking to our system that our psyche has a hard time making it real.
We have moments when we forget and have to be brutally reminded that, “no, I can’t call her” or “oh, shit, I set him a place at dinner.” Then, right after you have that thought or set that place at the table, you will probably think, “Oh my God, what is wrong with me, I can’t believe I forgot, I must be going crazy!” Well, you don’t have to do that anymore because now you can say to yourself, “oh, my psyche is doing the first task of mourning.”
You are trying to accept the unacceptable. Someone you loved died dammit. Can you think of anything worse? Living with this truth and accepting the reality of the loss is a very brave thing to do, so be patient and gentle with your sweet self.
Not doing this task would be extreme denial that the death has occurred or extreme “acceptance” (aka totally not acceptance) and a need to cut everything of the person who died out of your life.
Worden, J. W. (2009). Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner. 4th ed. New York: Springer.