Sunday, January 31, 2010

My counseling class and the "tasks of mourning"

I had been enrolled in a counseling class as part of my Master's Program at Villanova and was to start a class in August of 2009. I had mixed feelings about attending and came close to dropping the class and taking the semester off but decided at the last moment to go ahead and take it one day at a time. The first class was very difficult-many of the students in the class knew of my loss and expressed their condolences. I was close to tears for much of the class. What would Casey want me to do I kept asking myself? She would want me to be in the class and keep on with my plan to get a degree in counseling so I stayed. I wanted to do a project on grief and recall the other students questioned why I would want to do a project on grieving and loss so soon after Casey's death. One actually said "Are you crazy?" With three other students we decided to look at the grief process for parents who have been told that their children have terminal diseases. The grief that is experienced prior to death is called "anticipatory grief." I knew that I needed to explore my own grief and thought I would be able to do so with the help of my fellow students. Much has been written about the so-called stages of grief first set forth by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her classic book On Death and Dying. These stages are denial,anger,bargaining,depression and acceptance. Others in the field have referred to "phases" of mourning. There was something that was a little unsettling for me as I read about these stages, or phases. I knew that any given day I would have "symptoms" of one or more stages or phases and , quite frankly, did not like to think of myself as being "in " anything. I like to be in control and I was not in control if I was stuck in some stage of grieving. My sense of control and perceived ability to control what was happening in my life was shattered by Casey's death. As I did more and more research for the project I found an article by J. William Worden, a psychologist with a great deal of grief counseling experience, who has written extensively on the subject that resonated with me. He preferred to speak of "tasks" of mourning as opposed to "stages" or "phases" of mourning since the latter implied a degree of passivity. On the other hand tasks are something we can reach out and do to accomplish our grief work.

Worden's Tasks of Mourning are as follows :

1. Accept the reality of the loss
2. Process the pain of grief
3. Adjust to a world without the deceased
4. Find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life.

Worden,J.W. (2009) Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy. Springer Publishing Company. New York.

I suspect that with me jumping head first into the charitable work with the Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation we established, all the scholarships and even this blog I am doing a lot of work on Task four and will need to go back to the other earlier tasks-but this is comfortable for me and has been working . I am a task oriented person-from my practice of law , to involvement with outside charitable organizations and even around the house-I like lists and I am restless when not working on something. I have had difficulty looking at too many pictures of Casey or when I think of the future and what she has lost and what I will lose as a result of her death. It is hard for me to adjust to a world without Casey and when the emotions get too close to the surface I tend to change my focus -avoiding processing the pain of grief?

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