J. William Worden, professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, developed a model that he calls the “Tasks of Mourning” (1991). His premise is that grief is work. It requires commitment and active participation on the part of the person who is grieving, and, these authors would add, on the part of those who wish to help them.

The tasks are:

  1. to  accept the reality of the loss;
  2. to work through to the pain of grief;
  3. to adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing
  4. to emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life.

Worden’s task-focused model offers a motivational framework for grief work. Time, in and of itself, does not heal all wounds. There is no magic in the one- or two-year anniversary date following a loss. This model acknowledges that death does not end a relationship. Emotionally relocating the deceased is an on going process that will continue throughout the life cycle. Personal and meaningful commemoration and certain rituals help facilitate this process.

Love endures death. The loss of a significant loved one is something that is not got “over.” Words like “closure” may create anger and hostility on the part of the bereaved. Things (doors, wardrobes, bank accounts) are closed and emptied. How, then, does closure apply to a relationship that was, is, and always will be significant? The work of grief involves learning to live with and adjust to the loss. According to Worden, there may be a sense that you never finish grieving, but realistic goals of grief work include regaining an interest in life and feeling hopeful again.

Redefining and recreating a purposeful, meaningful life is an enormous physical, social, psychological, and spiritual challenge to the bereaved. Re-kindling the desire to live and thrive can be a difficult process. Support through the tasks of mourning is essential to enable this to happen.

Leave a Comment