by Julia Rajtar, M.A.P.S., BCC
A grief group participant was lamenting the death of her mother, nearly four years after her death. The participant said she is living with the grief, carries it with daily, and is able to blend that death into her current life moving. In preparing for a holiday, family began sharing stories of mom, both in recognition of the sadness that she is not there, and the gratitude for memories shared and all she passed on to her family. The griever then shared that a family member told her that “she will never get over the death of her mother, she has too many regrets from the past.”
Recalling memories and stories of loved ones as we prepare for or celebrate special days, anniversaries, holidays, times that family celebrated together, will frequently bring back the memory of the one who died if they were part of that celebration. This is a natural part of grief. As for getting over regrets from the past… we all carry them with us, and learn to live with our past errors, mistakes, missed opportunities. If significant enough, seeking counseling can help us to live with those regrets. Regrets are part of life, and when a loved one dies, it is another opportunity to face the sadness we carry with us, blend it into our lives and learn to live with it.
Tasks of Mourning
Mourning – which is the adaptation to loss, can be seen as involving four basic tasks. These tasks as identified by J. William Worden, PhD,ABPP, include:
Task 1: To accept the reality of the loss
Task 2: To process the pain of the grief
Task 3: To adjust to a world without the deceased
Task 4: To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life.
Someone once described task four as: blending the loss into your life, learning to live with it, while still continuing to live. We can continue to have a transformed love for our deceased. We have not lost our years of living with the deceased nor our memories. We carry with us their influences, inspirations, their values, and the meanings embodied in their lives. We hold the past with us, and keep moving forward, as there is still life to live. When we get “stuck” in the past attachment which precludes the bereaved from forming new ones, seeking professional counseling can help. As one college student discovered two years after the death of her father, “there are other people to be loved, and it doesn’t mean that I love Dad any less.”
These tasks of mourning are fluid and can be revisited and worked through, again and again over time, and various tasks can also be worked on at the same time. So, was the bereaved at the beginning of is story struggling with regrets, or had she blended the loss into her life, formed new attachments and is carrying the memories with her into the future?
Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, Fourth Edition, J. William Worden, Springer Publishing Company, New York, NY, 2000.