Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, sharpens the understanding, and softens the heart (John Adams). Part of learning to dance with adversity and find hope in painful circumstances is to have a framework to help you deal with the losses that come into our lives (whether they be as traumatic as a death or as upsetting as a motorcycle accident).
The four tasks of grief (developed by William Worden) provide a framework and supplement the grief cycle with further thoughts to help frame the experiences you will have to continue moving and growing through a season of grief and loss to a place of healthy recovery.
Unpacking the Four Tasks of Grief
1. Accept the reality of the loss
The task as you begin to grieve is to come to terms with the fact that life as you knew it is over. Whether that be with a person who is now gone or with the activities and things you enjoyed that are no longer be available for you. I had to put my work plans on hold, let go of running, and by choice give up the motorcycle. All these losses loomed large in the beginning but eventually were relinquished and accepted as our new reality.
He that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it (Turkish Proverb).
2. Experience the pain of grief
Grieving is an emotional roller coaster ride. The key here is to “experience” the pain of grief. Not just think about it, but to go down into the emotional quagmire of anger, loneliness, depression, frustration, disappointment, sadness which is the only way “through” your grief. If we try to avoid these emotions or push them down, we will only delay the pain and we will see them resurface in unhealthy ways.
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear (CS Lewis).
3. Adjust to the new environment
This task is all about getting used to your new reality without whatever or whoever you have lost. You may have more responsibility, less mobility, fewer options, a change in status in some of your relationships. Coming to terms with these realities and adjusting practically to what you now have to work with takes place at this stage. I’ve adjusted to being alone at home in my recliner Monday to Friday and have adjusted to activities I can do from that chair that work.
Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how (James Russell Lowell).
4. Reinvest energy in life
The task here is about leaning into new activities and relationships that fit with your new reality. It’s learning to love and relate to new people, find purpose in your adjusted activities and put value on the things you have discovered have new meaning for you. It’s giving yourself permission to laugh and live again.
The other day, the tears I shed were tears of joy when I thought about the quality friendships I now have and how I’m encouraging people I haven’t even met! That’s progress!
One joy shatters a hundred griefs (Chinese Proverb).
A final thought
Time goes on, and your life is still there, and you have to live it. After a while you remember the good things more often than the bad. Then, gradually, the empty silent parts of you fill up with sounds of talking and laughter again, and the jagged edges of sadness are softened by memories (Lois Lowry).
What are you grieving the loss of? Where are you in the tasks of grief and what’s next?
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