Serving Western Wisconsin
Tasks of Grief

Tasks of Grief

By Chaplain Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC


Most of us when we think of grief, understand grieving as a model identified by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, in her book, On Death and Dying, 1969.   In her well-known work, she stated that her book was about interviews with the dying, and ways to provide better care for them.  She had hoped her book would provide a basis for coping with dying and coping with loss. Most people are familiar with her stage-based theory as a model for grief, through these identifying words:  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.  Since 1969 we have learned a great deal from studying bereavement and grief, and stand on the shoulders of our predecessors, by trying to move forward in our thinking.  


Other models have been advanced over the years.  One, in particular, that provides further understanding for how we grief is from Psychologist William Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning.   J. William Worden, PhD, ABPP, described the four tasks of mourning, in his book, “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy”.  


His Four Tasks include, (#4 & 5 separated for additional clarification).

  1.  Reality of Loss
  2.  Experiencing pain of grief/loss
  3.  Invest in new relationships/ activities
  4.  Integrate the loss (maintain connection with deceased, find meaning, new sense of identity)
  5.  Future-forward looking


A brief summary of each task is further described.  The first task is to accept the reality of the loss that our loved one is dead.  The second task calls us to acknowledge and experience the pain associated with losing our loved one.  The next task described by Worden is to adjust to a life in which our loved one is no longer present. The last task(listed as #4 & 5 for our purposes), desscribed is that the mourner must somehow find a place for their loved one within their emotional life which can, at the same time, permit them to go on in the world.  Survivors will not forget their loved one, but eventually will realize that their lives can and do go on.


Grief is not a linear process, whereby after completion of step one, we can check it off our list and it’s done, and then move onto step two, that is not how the human body operates as we adjust and learn to live with the death of people we love.  Not surprisingly then, we move back and forth, often described as oscillating, in and out of the sadness, into laughter and hope. What is important and what Worden has provided so well is a model that not only provides a road map of a process, but also in the end, hope.   I am often asked by the bereaved, “When will this end?”  Worden’s model(referred to by many in the field) reminds us that we can have a future again, that we can look forward, when we are ready, and we can live a life again, where the depth of the pain of the loss no longer strangles us, but walks with us into the next chapter of our lives.


Resources for Further Reading:

Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, J. William Worden, PhD, ABPP, Springer Publishing Company LLC, New York, New York, 2009.


What is your Grief website:

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