The Four Tasks of Mourning, by Willian Worden


The Four Tasks of Mourning, by Willian Worden

J. William Worden, PhD, ABPP is a Fellow member of the American Psychological Association and holds academic appointments at Harvard Medical School and the Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology in California. He is also co-principal investigator for Harvard’s Child Bereavement Study, based at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Worden is one of the world’s authorities in grief treatment and in his book Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy  he proposed a model of four grief tasks, that considers helpful to understand the mourning process, since it involves confrontation and thoughts restructuring about the person who died, as well as the loss experience and following adaptations.

Worden is the most consensual author, when talking about grief tasks, referring that bereaved person must include them in a positive way during the process.

Task I: To Accept the Reality of the Loss

The first mourning task consists of facing the reality that the person has died and that she won’t come back. Accepting the reality of loss can take some time because it needs both, rational and emotional acceptance, and this last one is sometimes neglected by the professionals that follow the bereaved person.

The beliefs and disbeliefs can make this task difficult, however the traditional rituals, such as funerals, can help the bereaved person taking a position towards acceptance and progress at this stage.

Task II: Acknowledge the Pain of the Loss

The second mourning task consists of processing the grief pain, recognizing and facing such painful emotions, such as sadness, anger and guilt, allowing to feel them and share the pain that can manifest in the physical field beyond the emotional aspect.

The pain is mostly associate to sadness, but anxiety, anger, guilt and loneliness are also very common feelings felt by the bereaved person.

Task III: Adjust to a World without the Deceased

The third task consists of making changes and adjustments to the daily routine where the deceased is no longer there, and Worden says there are three different contexts that have to be changed.

First we have external adjustments, with different meanings for each person, depending on the kind of relationship they had and the roles that the deceased person had. It may be necessary to develop new skills and take on the tasks that were handled by their loved one.

Another aspect is related to internal adjustments. Besides having to change daily routines, the bereaved person has to adjust her one’s identity, such as self-esteem.

There is also a need to handle spiritual adjustments, concerning beliefs, values, assumptions about the world, including the changes in her new role, and world view towards purpose and life meaning.

Task IV: Find a way to remember the deceased, while moving forward in life.

The last task represents the ending of the process, where the bereaved person finds a healthy way to remind the deceased with all love, and carry on with her life, because now she understands that moving on doesn’t mean forgetting, but just open a space for others.

Worden states that these four tasks are not linear, and must be carried on according to individual needs, and considering the pain intensity faced by the person. What really matters is that it should be a flexible, positive and constructive process increasing well-being facing on the new reality.


Go Back