As a life transitions coach/grief specialist, I have coached many people through their journey of grief and loss from the loss. In his book, “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, Second Edition” (Springer, 1991), J. William Worden, PhD, describes what he calls “The Four Tasks of Mourning. This morning, I am reminded of the tasks, as I get ready for the transition of our much-loved 17-year-old rat terrier, Casey Chew.
Task 1 – Accepting the reality of the loss.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross talks about denial as a stage of grief. This model was originally written for people at end stages of life. Physically, we know intellectually that our loved ones are not coming back. On an emotional level, it is harder to accept the reality of it. I often tell my clients that grieving are an emotional process, not an event. To accept the loss is real is the first step to healing.
Task 2: To work through the pain of grief.
Give yourself permission to feel the pain. Often times, we cover it up with work, keeping busy, minimizing our loss. Other short-term coping mechanisms may include the use alcohol or food. At the end of the day, giving ourselves the chance to feel the pain will help us move through it.
In the three weeks since Casey’s diagnosis of kidney failure, our family has taken time to complete our time with her in our own way. For me, talking, journaling, teaching by example has helped me work through this journey.
Task 3: To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing.
When we experience a loss, we also miss the moments we shared with our loved ones. After 11 golden years with Casey, I am going to miss our walks as a family. For others, it may be the loss of a life partner, a best friend, a walking buddy, and a shopping pal.
One way to move through this is by beginning to create new rituals and meaningful activities. For the next several weeks, we will explore some new routes in the neighborhood for our daily walks.
Task 4: To emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life.
What does this mean? It means acknowledging the memories of our loved ones will always remain in our hearts without being attached to the memory itself. Or attached to the pain story as time goes on. The guilt of feeling good about something when the one we love is not there to share the moment with us. This can be especially difficult in the acute phase of our grief as pangs of pain tug at our heartstrings every time we think of our loved ones or beloved pet. Recognize that this is a normal part of the grieving process. Allow your emotions to surface and work through them. Talk to a friend or a therapist. Write, share, set aside time to grief each day.
Last but not least, it is ok to reach out for support. Sometimes, it takes a village to move through our grief. Since sitting down to this post, the sun has risen and I am greeted by a new day. Soon, our “village” of friends will be stopping by to say good-bye and celebrate the glorious life they had with Casey.