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Worden’s model is based on 4 different stages, or ‘tasks’, and is sometimes called the 4-part grief model. Depending on how you think and feel about grief, you might prefer Worden’s model to other grief models, like the dual process of grief or the 5 stages of grief.  

What is the 4-part grief model?

Worden says that for mourning to finish and emotional balance to return, there are 4 tasks of grieving: 

Task 1: To accept the reality of loss 

Task 2: To work through the pain of grief 

Task 3: To adjust to an environment where the person who has died is missing 

Task 4: To find a lasting connection with the person we’ve lost while starting on a new life. 

While these stages of grief don't have a set order, some tasks rely on finishing others first. For example, you’ll need to have accepted the reality of your loss (Task 1) before being able to adjust to your environment (Task 3). 

Creating a timeline of how long it takes to finish these tasks is difficult because grief doesn’t follow an order. Worden explains that it's okay to go back to these tasks over time since grief doesn’t follow a straight line. 

We’ll look at each of the tasks in more detail below. 

The 4 tasks of grief in detail

Task 1: To accept the reality of loss

Worden says that the first thing to do is accept that someone is really gone, and this can be easy for some people but can be very hard for others (even if you’re both mourning the same loss).  

Doing things like having a funeral or talking about the person like they're not here anymore are part of this. However, you also have to realise how important that person was in your life, and how much their loss really means.  

Sometimes, people say they're okay with the loss but haven't really processed how big an event it is, and that can make this task take longer.  

Another part of task 1 is accepting how the person died, especially if it was something like suicide or an overdose – things that some people might not want to talk about. 

Task 2: To work through the pain of grief 

Task 2 is about coping with the pain of grief. For some people this can be an overwhelming idea. So instead of trying to list all the feelings someone might have when they're sad, Worden's idea is that everyone goes through a range of emotions when they're grieving. The feelings could be sadness, fear, feeling alone, hopelessness, anger, guilt, relief and many more.  

The important part is to admit, talk about and understand these feelings so you can work through them. The problem is if you ignore or avoid your feelings, especially if you think people around you might not be comfortable or able to cope with these tough emotions.  

Worden says you need to acknowledge your emotions and that it's okay to talk about these feelings to help you to begin to overcome grief. 

Task 3: To adjust to an environment where your loved one is missing 

Task 3 is about getting used to a world where the person who died is no longer here. Worden says this can mean different things for different people, depending on how close they were to the person and what roles the person played in their life. This adjustment can take a long time and involves changes inside, outside and spiritually. 

Sometimes, it can take a while to realise all the different things the person used to do and figure out how to do them yourself. It can be difficult for someone who is grieving to learn new skills, like paying bills, taking care of children alone, keeping a home clean and going to work. 

It's not just about doing things on your own but also about adapting to a new way of living without that person. It's also about finding a new spiritual balance because the experience of death can change how you see things. This task is all about gaining the skills and confidence to move forward in this changed world. 

Task 4: To find a lasting connection with the person you’ve lost while starting on a new life 

Task 4 is about keeping a connection with the person who has passed away while still living your life. It can mean different things for different people, but generally, it involves letting yourself think about the person and remembering them while also finding joy in new things or relationships. 

According to Worden, not completing this task is like not really living. It's feeling like life stopped when the person died and not being able to find a meaningful way to continue without them. This task can take a long time, and for many, it's one of the hardest things to do. 

Who is J. William Worden?

This grief model was developed by J. William Worden PhD. He is a psychologist who worked at Harvard Medical School and is a Fellow of the American Psychologists Association. He is well known for his psychological theories on grief and loss. His model of grief is explained in detail in his book, Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy, a 5th edition of this title was published in 2008. 

Why was Worden’s grief model developed? 

After spending many years studying psychological theories of grief and loss, Worden developed the 4 tasks of grieving to help people to begin to overcome loss. He did this by suggesting 4 key tasks that the bereaved can do to take them through the stages of grief. If you’re going through grief, thinking about these 4 tasks might help you to understand how you’re feeling.

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