This is Part 2 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 II: To Process the Pain of Grief
If I were to ask you what it means to process the pain of grief, you might tell me it means a lot of crying. It’s true that one of the pains of grief is sadness and it certainly does take center stage. But one of the things that is so confusing about the grief experience is that you will have a lot of other feelings that are a part of grief, but because you were never taught that, you will attribute these grief feelings to something being wrong with you or that you are going crazy.
You have awful lot of pain to process and if you are not numbing out intentionally, then you are working Task II. Unfortunately, processing the pain of grief is going to mean a lot more than sadness. All of the following are normal grief feelings.
Early in grief you may experience shock (usually after a sudden death, but I’ve found that even an expected death still feels shocking) and numbness (that’s your good ole psychological immune system helping you out).
The other normal “pains” of grief are anger, guilt (I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t struggled with guilt in some form), anxiety, loneliness, helplessness, relief (relief that the person isn’t in pain anymore or that the strain of caregiving has lifted and then this is usually followed by more guilt for having these thoughts) (Worden, 2009, p. 18-23.) I say if you are having a painful feeling in the first two years (five years for parents) after the death, then my guess that if you trace the root cause, you will find grief or see that your painful feeling can be connected to grief. If you don’t, that’s good too, but the fact you traced the feeling is the win because that means that you are conscious of the fact that you indeed are grieving.
- You can work the hell out of Task II and never shed one single tear. You can grieve without crying.
- It is still completely normal grief not to experience all of the pains of grief. For example, if you never feel or have anger or anxiety, that doesn’t mean you got grief wrong, that means you must have had a more than your share of something else.
- You can have more than one pain of grief at the same time (“I’m relieved that she’s no longer in pain, but I’m so lonely without her.)
- If any of these become overwhelming and get in the way of functioning, that is not normal and it’s time to get professional support.