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The Purpose of Grief

. Written by Tricia Raynsford

Those who have passed, and we have mourned, usually are those we have had an emotional attachment to. Humans are social animals that depend on others to survive, and nobody gets through this life alone. In order to create attachments to those around us, our brain’s reward centres release “happy hormones” when around them build and maintain a bond, making us sad when apart which gives us that “missing” feeling. When we lose someone close to us, we experience a loss of an attachment which causes us to grieve and affects us physically and mentally. The purpose of grief is to detach us from the one we have lost. It is both a mourning of the attachment we had and the part they played in our life, compelling us to adjust to a world without them.

The Four Tasks of Grief

The four tasks of grief, often referred to as the “Four Tasks of Mourning,” provide a framework for understanding the process of healing and adaptation after a significant loss. These tasks were proposed by psychologist J. William Worden. The four tasks of grief can be seen as stages of grief, although not everyone will go through the four tasks in the same order.

The Grieving Process

Worden (1991) suggests there are 4 tasks that we must do to adapt to the loss. First, we must face reality and accept that this person is gone and will not return. We must intellectually and emotionally accept that they have passed and our life and future will look different without them. It can also look like making meaning out of their passing.

Yellow Tree
“Each person’s grief is like all other people’s grief; each person’s grief is like some other person’s grief; and each person’s grief is like no other person’s grief.” 
Yellow Divider
J. William Worden is a psychologist and provides a framework of four tasks that help us understand how people journey through grief. He is the author of several books on the topic of grief and bereavement, such as Personal Death Awareness; Children & Grief: When a Parent Dies

The second task is to process the pain of the grief. We must acknowledge and let ourselves feel the pain of the loss, instead of avoiding or suppressing the pain. It is absolutely normal to feel an array of emotions, like sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, yearning, relief, etc. as well as physical pain. Letting ourselves grieve is an important part of the process of grieving.

The third task is to adjust to a world without the deceased, externally in our environment, and internally in our sense of self and the role they played in our life. Recognize that this will take some time to adjust to and there is no timeline that is “normal” for anyone person for this to happen.

Finally, the fourth task is to find an enduring connection with the deceased in our future life. Even with the loss of their presence, they still contributed to a part of who you are which you will always carry with you. This person taught you things, shared experiences and emotions with you, and helped shape your life and the person you are today. Though the person is gone, their memory and influence live on through you.

Grieving allows us to heal, to remember with love rather than pain. It is a sorting process.
One by one you let go of things that are gone
and you mourn for them.
One by one you take hold of the things that have become a part of who you are and build again.

Rachel Naomi Remen – New York Times bestselling author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, a modern retelling of a timeless story about healing the world by finding the hidden light in everyone and everything.

Strategies to Help with the Recovery of Grief

When dealing with a loss of a loved one, we can experience a depression-like state, which causes us to withdraw from life and experience intense emotional pain. This can look like fatigue, increases in sleep or disturbed sleep, irritability or low mood, rumination, lack of motivation, social isolation, etc. To cope with grief, CAMH and the American Psychological Association recommend the following coping strategies:

  • Mourning: Most commonly people think of and practice cultural rituals to say goodbye to their deceased, like participating in funerals, memorials or celebrations of life, attending the grave site, praying, etc.
  • Acceptance: Acceptance of the death and acceptance of your emotions surrounding the death instead of avoiding or suppressing them.
  • Social support and talking: Social isolation and avoidance of talking about the deceased or the experience of their passing only serve to prolong and worsen the grieving process. Talking with others can elicit empathy and support, provide connection, and can help us accept and make sense of the loss. This can also look like joining a support group with others who are also grieving.
  • Remembering the life of your loved one: You can remember and honour the deceased by talking about them, sharing stories or favourite things about them, doing something in their honour (i.e. planting a garden), keeping something of theirs to remember them by, doing something they loved, etc.
  • Making meaning: Finding meaning in their life, the role they played in your life, meaning in their death, or even a spiritual meaning can help continue the bond you shared.
  • Taking care of yourself: Sometimes the first step to coping is simply taking care of ourselves. Striving to eat regular meals, engaging in some type of daily exercise, practicing good sleep hygiene, and refraining from unhealthy activities like substance use can help us through the grieving process.

Grief, loss, and bereavement, though always painful and often overwhelming, serve a profound purpose in our lives. It is a testament to the love and connections we cherish with the ones we have lost. Grief allows us to honor and process our losses, to acknowledge the depth of our emotions, and to navigate the intricate landscapes of change and adaptation. It reminds us of our capacity to love and to be deeply affected by the world around us. While grief may feel all-consuming at times, it also holds the potential for growth, resilience, and transformation. By embracing the purpose of grief and giving ourselves permission to mourn, we can navigate our sorrow with compassion and find a path towards healing, restoration, and renewed hope.

Marleen Filimon - Business Owner - PMP Matters
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Marleen Filimon is the founder and CEO of Private Matters Psychotherapy
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