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Written by Co-Founder | Clinical Director | Principal Psychologist, Mr. Gerald Boh

Many people have heard of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), and they generally find that these stages could reflect their grieving process, at least to a certain extent.

However, there are some people particularly those with an instrumental approach towards grieving may not be able to comprehend their experiences of loss effectively with the five stages of grief. The limitation of the stage model is that it postulates what people who are grieving could be going through but it doesn’t suggest how the sense of loss and grief could be managed at a personal level.

As an alternative, William Worden suggests that there are four tasks one must accomplish in order for the grieving and mourning processes to be completed appropriately, and life equilibrium to be re-established. There is no specific order though there could be some natural sequence in that completion of certain tasks would presuppose completion of the remaining tasks. It may be necessary to revisit specific tasks over time as grief is not linear and likely to be subjective. Additionally, it is challenging to ascertain a timeline for the completion of these four grief tasks. Let us examine these tasks in greater details.


Task 1: Accept the reality of the loss.

While the Kubler-Ross stage model ends with acceptance, Worden believes that accepting the reality of the loss and that the death has indeed occurred, even if it is anticipated, is the foundation of healing. There are a couple of ways to commence this task. Viewing the body of the person silently who died is one way to begin. Participating in rituals such as planning the funeral, preparing the eulogy or tending his or her grave are strategies to begin working on the first task.

Task 2: Process your grief and pain.

Many people have different, and often unique, ways of dealing with their grief. Some need to talk, some would cry, others keep themselves occupied with work or hobby. Some people would cope with the sudden pain of loss by finding a way to memorialize the person who died by suicide e.g. investing in a cause close to the loved one’s heart, finding ways to help other similar group of survivors. It is not inappropriate to process grief by action as long as the focus is to navigate through the pain, not to avoid or hide from it.

Task 3: Adjust to the world without your loved one in it.

To commence on the third task, it requires us to adapt to a novel and frequently much altered world. Importantly, different people would adjust to the new reality in different ways. For example, it could mean removing your loved one’s phone number off or making new lifestyle plans without the deceased. Sometimes this adjustment without your loved one means having to face new financial situations such as having to return to work. Whatever the absence of the deceased means for you, commencing on Task 3 can guide you to explore and become accustomed to your new world.

Task 4: Find a way to maintain a connection to the person who died while embarking on your own life.

In this task many people may find themselves exploring how to remain emotionally connected with the deceased without it preventing them from moving ahead in their own life. Do note it is not about forgetting the deceased rather shifting the attention to find ways to re-connect and enjoy their life while remembering the memories of the deceased. Worden emphasizes that there is no fixed time frame for the completion of this task although it is likely that it would be of over a longer period e.g. months and years instead of days and weeks.

Addressing these 4 Task to adjust and assimilate to grief

In conclusion, Worden believes that while it is essential to address these four tasks to help people adjust and assimilate to their grief appropriately, it is important to note that many people would experience loss or its intensity in their own unique way. Let’s be patient and giving towards people who are grieving in their own way.