Jan Bryant
   LLB, MEd (Counselling Psych.), CCC
Counsellor & Educator

Dr. Alan Wolfelt's Six Tasks of Mourning

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a grief counsellor and educator and author of Healing the Bereaved Child, identifies six needs that mourners have during the grief journey.

1) Need to acknowledge the reality of the death.

Truth is essential in understanding and coming to terms with death. People can cope with what they know about. Funeral services, sitting with the body, seeing the damaged car, being close to articles of clothing of the deceased, telling your story, or finding out information all help to acknowledge the reality of what has happened.

2) Need to approach the pain of loss while being supported.

All mourners will approach their pain at their own speed and in their own way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but each person needs permission and support to experience their feelings and thoughts. If a mourner does not receive safe and non-judgmental support, they may avoid experiencing their feelings which can lead to difficulties in the future.

3) Need to remember the person who died.

Mourners may need encouragement to recall and store memories. Pictures, objects and clothing may help. They may want to include the deceased on special occasions with a ceremony or other reminders, like a picture at the table. Many people will say the best thing to do is “forget about it”. It may be more helpful to develop a new relationship with the person who died, based on integrating memories and present experience.

4) Develop a new self-identity.

Who am I now? Social and functional roles within a family may change. A griever may be mourning not just the death but an old part of themselves or a way of life that is now gone.

5) Find meaning in what has happened.

A mourner’s understanding of the meaning of life may be shaken by a death, especially a sudden or violent death. They may experience the world as no longer safe, or may question the meaning of their own life, the life of the person who died and their spiritual beliefs. They may need the support of a trusted adult or community of faith in which to explore these issues. It is important that the mourner be supported to find their own answers to these questions.

6) Experience continued support in future years.

It is a common myth that following loss we come to “closure” and grief ends. Our society supports an: “It’s over and done with. Put it behind you.” approach to grief. Different responses to loss can emerge through the stages of our lives. Continued understanding and support is important when mourners experience or re-experience grief.