The Tasks of Mourning

Knowing what to expect after a loss can make it easier to cope or help someone else. Grief is part of the natural growth process. The "Tasks of Mourning" are more than a simple checklist; these are normal experiences that we move through while grieving. Although many people work through these tasks in order, some skip and repeat tasks. Don't try to rush through or avoid them. Mourning is a complicated process; it takes lots of time to adjust to the changes that result from loss.

Accepting that the loss is real is often difficult. Sometimes you can't grasp that it won't be restored. You may hold onto habits or objects connected with the loss or pretend the loss is not important. You may even believe you can gain back the lost person or thing. But day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month,, the absence confronts you, and the loss becomes more and more real. Most people eventually accept the full reality of loss, but it takes time.

Feeling the pain follows accepting the loss. Trying to avoid pain is natural, but it only prolongs the process., You may try to cut off your feelings, to keep yourself too busy to think to feel or think, or to dwell only on pleasant memories. But the pain eventually will appear in another form, such as depression or illness. Feeling the pain may be the hardest part of grieving, so understanding help and sympathy from others are essential. remember, pain is a necessary symptom of healing.

Releasing the pain through crying helps relieve the sorrow and pain of loss. Laughter works, too: it can release tension caused by fear and anger. Releasing anger through a tantrum -- either alone or with a friend or counselor -- also can help. Whatever you're feeling, express it. Don't hold it.

Adjusting to the environment can take a long time. Loss changes your social and/or physical situation. You may want to put off adjusting by pretending to be helpless, pulling away from others, not facing or doing what is needed, or not building coping skills. A period of accepting help and care from others can help you adjust to a new situation; it can give you time to gather your internal resources. Most people are adaptable enough to develop the skills and goals needed to meet new challenges.

Releasing the attachment means letting go of the emotional energy attached to what was lost. At first, you may feel disloyal. You may think this lessens the personal meaning of the past. To grow through grief, you should pay attention to these feelings and know they are normal. But over time, as you practice letting them go, these feelings naturally pass. It may help to talk with a friend or counselor about the difficulties of saying a final goodbye.

Forming new attachments helps heal the wounds of loss. Not only must you build new links to people, activities, and commitments, but you must form a new attachment with the deceased by incorporating the loss into your ongoing life. This new connection is highly individual and may be through memories or linking objects with your loved one. When building new links to people and activities, don't rush: If you don't deal with your grief first, you may stunt the healing. It's not unusual to fear new attachments because of the risk of feeling loss again. It's not uncommon to have doubts about being able to find meaning in new activities or relationships. But new attachments - either strengthening old ties or starting new ones - help recover and maintain your emotional and physical health.