Long after our minds accept the fact of death, our body and imagination go on living as if death did not occur. We may hear the voice of the person who has died, feel their touch, see them in a familiar chair. We may buy special food for them, or mentally recite stories to share with them. Each time we fail to find them, we acknowledge a little more deeply the fact they are gone and the hole that this has left in our lives. This slow, one-a-day-at-a-time work of acknowledging their absence if the first task of mourning.
Waves of sorrow, explosions of rage, stretches of leak despair. Restless searching questioning; “Why?” Enduring all these is the second task of mourning. When a person has been an important part of our lives, for many years, the pain of losing them cannot be experienced all at once. Even if our feelings for them were a mixture of love and hate, the years together leave their mark. We may feel the pain of losing not only what we had, but what we never had as well.
In a very personal sense, we face a new and unfamiliar world. We need to adjust, just as an immigrant needs to adjust to the language and culture of his new country. We need to develop and get used to new routines, learn to handle new responsibilities, learn to interact with other people in new ways. This process of discovering what this new world is like and learning how to cope with it is the third task of mourning.
Find a place for the deceased that will enable the mourner to be connected with the deceased but in a way that will not preclude the mourner from going on in life. We need to find ways to memorialize, that is, to remember the dead loved ones - keeping them with us but still going with life. "We can never purge those who have been close to us from our own history except by psychic acts damaging to our identity." (Volkan, 1985).