These tips for coping with the loss of a loved one – whether it’s a family member, close friend, or even a beloved family pet – are based on the four “tasks of mourning.”
In Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, Fourth Edition: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, Dr William Worden describes the four tasks of mourning – which is a departure from the more commonly known stages of grieving. Despite the title, this book isn’t just for grief counselors and therapists. One widow says, “My husband passed away seven months ago, and I’m still dealing with grieving. My counselor recommended this book on how to cope with the loss of a loved one. Frankly, when I saw the subtitle said it’s a handbook for psychotherapy practitioners, I almost returned it. Instead I took about five minutes to discover how very readable and helpful it is. Like my counselor, I find Dr. Worden’s Task Therapy very practical and accessible to the non-specialist reader. I just ordered a gift copy for a friend, who lost her husband recently.”
In How to Survive the Grieving Process, I describe three tips on how to cope with the loss of a loved one. This post is different – it’s a gentle introduction to the tasks of mourning. If you have any questions on these tasks, please ask below. I can’t give advice, but sometimes it helps to share your experience of losing someone you love.
What advice have you already received about coping with the loss of a loved one? Before you read through these tasks of mourning, take a moment to think about what you already know. Sometimes we know what we need to heal, and we know how to grieve. We need to give ourselves permission to grieve “our way.”
How to Cope With the Loss of a Loved One
I’ve been researching the grieving process because one of the books in my Blossom series is about rebuilding and regaining strength after a loved one dies. The most important thing I’ve learned is that we need to actively grieve our losses. We can’t “just” weep and passively wait for the feelings of grief to pass (though, of course weep we must).
The idea is to pair the following tasks of mourning with ways to actively grieve loss. Then, you’ll journey through the grieving process with a level of peace and acceptance.
The four tasks of mourning are:
- Accept the reality of the loss
- Experience the pain of grief
- Adjust to an environment without your loved one
- Reinvest your emotional energy in other relationships and a productive life
In Living Alone After the Death of a Spouse, I offer practical tips on how to cope with the loss of a loved one. The following “tasks of mourning” are more emotional and spiritual.
1. Accept the reality of the loss
When you lose a loved one – even if the death is expected – there is a sense of unreality and disbelief. It feels like it hasn’t actually happened. So, the first task of mourning is to face the reality that your loved one is dead. He or she is gone and will not return. Reunion in this life is impossible.
Denying the facts of the loss, the meaning of the loss, or the irreversibility of the loss only serves to prolong the grief process. If you want to learn how to cope with the loss of a loved one, you need to accept that he or she won’t come back to life. This “task of mourning” is actually easier said than done! I still can’t believe my grandmother is gone, and she died 18 years ago.
2. Experience the pain of grief
The second task of mourning involves facing your sorrow and experiencing your grief. Many people try to avoid the painful feelings of grief in different ways, such as moving away, avoiding painful thoughts, keeping busy, and trying to be as strong as possible.
One of the hardest and healthiest ways to cope with the loss of a loved one is to allow yourself to experience and express your feelings. Anger, guilt, loneliness, anxiety, and depression are among the most common feelings and experiences after the loss of a loved one.
To actively grieve, recall and share both the pleasant and unpleasant memories of the loved one you lost. Ask your friends and family for support. Tell them what you need from them; people often misunderstand the needs of grieving and don’t know how to help you cope with the loss of a loved one. Be assured that the memory of your loved one will continue. Your pain will lessen in time, and may even finally disappear.
If you need a break from the tasks of mourning, read Practical Tips and Prayers for Grieving Widows.
3. Adjust to your new environment – without your loved one
After the loss of a loved one, many people resent or fear having to develop new skills and to take on roles that were formerly performed by the person who died. Widows are especially vulnerable to fear and/or insecurity in this new stage of life. There may be many practical daily affairs they need help and advice with, but there will be a great sense of pride in being able to master these challenges.
The emotions involved in this third task of mourning are painful, but necessary to experience. If you don’t experience and express your feelings, you will get stuck in the grief process. And, I don’t have to tell you that being stuck in grief is definitely not a good way to cope with the loss of a loved one!
4. Reinvest your emotional energy in other relationships and a productive life
Walden’s fourth “task of mourning” is to emotionally withdraw from your lost loved one. The idea is to put this emotional energy into a productive life and healthy relationships.
You don’t necessarily need to find a new spouse, surrogate father, or sister. But, to actively grieve and heal, you need to re-enter the stream of life without the loved one you lost. You must rebuild your own ways of satisfying your social, emotional, and practical needs by developing different or modified activities or relationships.
Moving forward and rebuilding your life is NOT dishonoring to the memory of the loved one you lost. Healing doesn’t mean that you love him or her any less. It simply recognizes that there are other people and things in life to be loved. You are still capable of loving, and expressing your love will help you cope with the loss of a loved one.
A question for you
What is one word that describes how you feel about these stages of mourning tips on how to cope with the loss of a loved one? Tell me below. You can write more than a word if you’d like. Sometimes it’s helpful to bundle all your feelings into one word and share how you feel.
How have you coped with the grieving process in the past?
While I can’t offer advice, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience of coping with the loss of a loved one. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings.
My next article is about being strong after a death in the family. Make sure you sign up below for my weekly email to receive new articles.
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