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Tasks of Grief

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

How many children do you have?

It was a simple question, the lady behind the counter was doing her job. But that day, I instantly was faced with an awkward, painful dilemma. How was I to answer? I had three living daughters and two dead sons (twins). In that moment, the lady didn’t need to know about the twins, the information was irrelevant. But for me, my sons were very real even though they had died. They were a part of my life, a part of me, and they mattered. They counted. Honestly, I don’t remember my answer, but I remember the feeling of panic and the feeling of hurt that overcame me. I knew my answer should be three, but I wanted it to be five. I had five children, but for her information I only had three. I wanted her to know about my boys.

In that instant, the painful truth of my grief became very real. I was heartbroken. The life of my twins was meaningless to society and the life that I experienced with them, while I carried them in pregnancy, was precious to me. Their death changed all that. And the gap, between society and me, was huge.

Karla Helbert, author of Yoga for Grief and Loss, teaches that we as people in grief have two main tasks. The first task being discovering how to have a relationship with someone who has died and second, discovering who we are now that this death experience has happened to us.

I don’t believe we can begin one task and complete it before moving onto the next task. The two tasks are ever intertwined, changing and evolving, with highs and lows, and, twists and turns. About the time we feel we are on stable ground with sure footing we discover we are on shifting sand and we need to find our balance again. We live between two worlds, the past with its memories and the future with pain. Between these two worlds is the present. The present is full of moments. It is in these moments where we discover who we are. We discover how this death has changed us. We discover how we live without our loved one. One moment at a time.

Whether our death experience is from the loss of a spouse, child, sibling, grandparent or friend, our lives are forever changed. We have to manage a relationship that is one sided. How do we do that? It takes a lot of time to figure it out. It takes courage and willingness to be in the empty spaces. We give ourselves permission to feel their presence and hear their voice. We practice the things they taught us. We speak their names, boldly. We press our hands to our chests and love them. We learn to love them for who they were, who they are and who they will become. Developing this relationship takes perseverance and grace.

In the process of discovering this new relationship, we begin to discover who we are. Death changes us. The things that we thought were important, become less important. A death experience has a way of changing our perspective and priorities. We discover we have a strength that we never knew we had. We discover new vulnerabilities, fears and weaknesses. We view time differently. After a death experience we discover a resiliency that we didn’t know existed. We stop and ponder the newness; we navigate the confusion. All of these things impact us, change us, scare us and redefine us. We discover that we are not the same person as before. We discover what living with grief in life is all about.


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