Understanding Microlevel Grief Through a Theoretical Lens

by Courtney L. Ledgard


People who are grieving and bereaved are a vulnerable population. The foundation of grieving, mourning, and bereavement through theories founded and elaborated upon by Erich Lindemann, William Worden, and Carl Jung can help understand this process. Analyzing the three different scholars’ theories in an organized fashion can introduce this material in a way that is easy to comprehend how this research came to be over time, and how the three researchers’ works are built upon one another and relate to each other in different ways. Understanding the foundational beliefs and research will allow us to simultaneously understand how these theories will differently impact the population going through disenfranchised grief, and how people in the population with different cultures, religions, and ethnicities could be differently impacted or have a different journey through grief, mourning, and bereavement. After one understands the theories and how they apply to these topics, one can begin to understand what healthy ways of grieving and mourning are and gain a sense of what is normal during this time period and the major tasks of mourning.

The decades of research on grief and mourning have allowed diverse populations to understand healthy coping mechanisms and processes to grieve and mourn a loss of some kind over a period of time. People can begin to understand how these processes can be impacted depending on factors such as the relationship one has to the deceased, how the deceased passed away, how sudden was the loss, if the loss was disenfranchised, and how their culture or the individual views grieving and mourning.

Some of the foundational research to establish a healthy way of grieving and healthy mourning tasks for individuals were through Erich Lindemann’s and William Worden’s research. Erich Lindemann’s study provided an underpinning understanding of how grief is usually handled and what factors impact the process of healing the loss (Worden, 2018). William Worden established the four major tasks of mourning that are considered milestones in the healing process of coping with one’s loss or death (Worden, 2018).

Carl Jung’s Transpersonal Theory in Mourning and Grief

The research has indicated that grieving and mourning can look different for diverse populations. People develop an understanding of how some cultures and religions can view death, grieving, and mourning differently; some people can look at grieving as a sign of weakness and that it is inappropriate to ask others for help, but some cultures consider offering help and resources to a grieving or mourning individual not only a benefit, but an absolute necessity during that time of need.

A major way many cultures cope with any losses is through their spirituality or religious practices. Carl Jung has coined the term “Transpersonal Theory” (Canda & Furman, 1999). Transpersonal Theory not only evolved how grieving and mourning were previously looked at, but it gave healthy spiritual outlets for some populations to believe that maybe their loss was for a bigger purpose in their lives or they are a part of a bigger and interconnected realm that is meant for something good to come from the tragedy (Canda & Furman, 1999). In other words, this theory and spiritual outlet can bring a great deal of comfort to the population going through the mourning tasks and grieving a loss of something (Canda & Furman, 1999).

Lindemann’s Theory

Lindemann’s theory for how people grieve in general continues to currently be a foundational element of how people understand grief by offering an explanation of the different domains that make up grief and how victims went through the process differently. Lindemann’s study of grief was conducted after a popular club burned down and took the lives of over 480 people (Worden, 2018). Lindemann primarily conducted interviews and research through the surviving family members of the population who perished in the tragedy (Worden, 2018).

He observed common patterns throughout the bereaved family members that they all demonstrated distress in their body in some way, preoccupation with the circumstances of how their loved one passed away, survivor’s guilt from the tragedy, angry and aggressive reactions, and the readjustment to a different life after the event occurred (Worden, 2018). Another key characteristic Lindemann noticed is that the surviving family members began developing traits of their loved ones in their current life (Worden, 2018). Lindemann organized his data information into four primary categories of Feelings, Physical Sensations, Cognitions, and Behavior (Worden, 2018).

Lindemann’s four categories have defined how he saw the majority of behaviors in healthy grieving (Worden, 2018). Within the Feelings category, he described sadness and anger as the most common, but they also experienced blame, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, yearning, emancipation, a relief, and numbness (Worden, 2018). The shock, anxiety, and numbness tended to happen earlier in the loss, followed by anger, guilt, helplessness, and loneliness (Worden, 2018). Later in the grief, reactions would usually be relief, yearning, and more calmed emotions after they had some more time, treatment, and support to better process the loss (Worden, 2018).


All of these emotions are normal and healthy to feel at any time in the cycle of grief, but vary for individuals. Some feelings tend to vary in how frequently they arise, the intensity, and the deceased person’s situation (Worden, 2018). One example shows how emotions felt can be different based on the relationship a person had with the deceased. A widow described herself as more relieved that her husband with a terminal illness perished in an event. A child who lost their beloved parent felt more angry and afraid or anxious (Worden, 2018). The feelings of sadness, loneliness, and guilt tend to come and go throughout the whole period of grief, but can also be expressed differently among different people as well.

Physical Sensations

The Physical Sensations category can explain many examples of how the emotions can feel or be expressed throughout the body following the loss (Worden, 2018). Lindemann’s research indicated that the participants of the study reported feeling tightness in their chest and throat, hollowness in the stomach, lack of energy generally, oversensitivity to noise (mainly loud or sudden noises), feeling short of breath, and as if their circumstances don’t feel real, weakness in their muscles, and a dryer mouth (Worden, 2018). All of these physical sensations are common following the loss of someone important to them and should be monitored to make sure they do not persist or increase in intensity over time.

Based on current research, we know that when clinicians come to the conclusion that the physical symptoms the person feels are because of grief, they should not be prescribed some kinds of medications unless they took them beforehand and that clinicians should be weary of monitoring the progress of the symptoms over time as well (Worden, 2018). These sensations can correlate with the feelings category, for example, when people tend to feel like their situation isn’t real while they are experiencing shock emotions; and some people can develop a tightness in the chest or shortness of breath when they feel especially angry (Worden, 2018).


Cognition traits usually disappear soon after the loss happens, but every person’s reaction to grief and a loss is individualized (Worden, 2018). Lindemann’s research concludes that his participants felt disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, sense of presence, and hallucinations. These are not emotions, but normal and healthy ways the mind begins to make sense of and cope with grief as one goes through it. In a typical grief period, disbelief of losing the person and how one’s life will change tends to happen in the beginning; confusion alludes to the participants not remembering information as well and generally questioning why and how the tragedy could have happened to their loved one (Worden, 2018).

The confusion aspect also speaks to the difficulty of concentration while going through grief as well (Worden, 2018). Preoccupation would usually happen in the beginning when someone is trying to avoid or deny that the loss happened and people may feel the sense of their loved one’s spirit being with them or hallucinate seeing their deceased loved one in public or lingering where they would commonly be when they were alive (Worden, 2018). Lindemann organized categories to be interconnected by the way people experience their loss.


Lindemann’s last category was behaviors. Most behaviors he observed were social isolation, sleep disturbances, changes in appetites, dreams of the deceased, avoiding reminders of the deceased, searching and calling out, sighing, restless hyperactivity, crying, and absentmindedness (Worden, 2018). In uncomplicated healthy grief, people in Lindemann’s study did not socialize as much or in the same way again (Worden, 2018). This could be because of their emotions, they didn’t want to share or maybe overshared with others. When somebody loses a spouse or a child, a good amount of their friends may have spouses or children, so they may not feel like they can spend time with them after the loss anymore (Worden, 2018). Social isolation at the beginning of grief is normal, but Lindemann indicated that people also withdraw sometimes if they view their grief as abnormal or not socially acceptable (Worden, 2018). Avoiding the reminders of the deceased tends to happen when somebody is still in denial of the loss or preoccupied trying to avoid feeling the grief.

Absentmindedness also tends to happen in the beginning when it typically accompanies confusion, shock, or feeling numb (Worden, 2018). Sleep disturbances and having dreams of the deceased usually happen throughout the grief period, but can occur in different ways. For example, a wife may have trouble falling asleep without her husband next to her in a different way that a child may not be able to fall asleep knowing their parent or parents are not in the next room or due to not knowing where their parent is anymore after they became bereaved (Worden, 2018). Changes in appetite can normally be associated with feeling hollow in the stomach; tightness in the chest or throat can potentially cause one to adjust or change their diet because of those bodily sensations (Worden, 2018).

Lindemann’s Theory in Different Cultural Contexts

In 1942, Lindemann likely analyzed the grief in people of the same or similar culture among his four categories of research since the majority of people who perished were celebrating the victory of the same Catholic university’s sporting event; therefore, the study may not reflect if these observations can be applied to many different ethnicities, cultures, and religions (Worden, 2018). However, researchers began to recognize Lindemann’s findings largely still hold true in today’s modern grieving populations among most people experiencing uncomplicated grief (Worden, 2018). People tend to exhibit the same behaviors from Lindemann’s study, but perceive and react differently to it based on other modern research findings (Worden, 2018).

Worden’s Theory

William Worden’s theory of the four tasks of mourning are central to how people cope with and handle grieving and mourning. Worden’s theory about the four tasks of mourning has become a crucial part of understanding the milestones of how people cope with losses and then move on with their lives (Worden, 2018). His research has been built on Lindemann’s theory in many ways. People can analyze similarities and differences to Lindemman’s theory developed in the 1940’s to Worden’s theory developed around the 1980’s. Worden’s theory is that mourning is the outward expression of grief. Lindemann’s research was about grief or the internal expression of the event (Worden, 2018). Worden (2018) described that after a loss, people cope with the grief through mourning in four different tasks over time in a process.

First Task of Mourning

The first task of mourning is to accept the reality of the loss (Worden, 2018). When somebody loses or a loved one and becomes bereaved sometimes they try to deny or avoid the loss. Accepting that it is real and is happening is the first step in the process of mourning (Worden, 2018). This task is where the beginning of mourning starts, shortly after the tragedy takes place (Worden, 2018).

Second Task of Mourning

Task number two of mourning is to process the pain of grief (Worden, 2018). People in different cultures process and outwardly express things differently. Many cultures, ethnicities, and religions show their mourning in different ways through funerals and mourning practices together. Some more recent research shows that European, Western Asian, and African American communities have different mourning practices when they are going through task number two of processing the pain.

According to the Matthews et al. article, African Americans who are in mourning like to include many African American organizations, churches, and communities into the grief period and typically have a heavy involvement of religion or Christianity emphasis (Matthews et al., 2018). It also mentions that the majority of African Americans did not seek out mental health resources or help during that time due to cultural beliefs against therapy and mental health services along with a mistrust of medical or mental health services in America (Matthews et al., 2018).

Their research also showed that African American communities also incorporated contemporary styles and music into their mourning rituals and funeral practices (Matthews et al., 2018). The way African Americans mourn a loss of somebody is different from how Turkish and Islamic cultures would process the pain.

Members of Western Asian Turkish culture like to incorporate many Islamic practices into their grief procedures such as eating foods in the graveyard with the deceased’s grave and explaining to the person’s spirit how they go to heaven and the pillars of Islam to remember (Bahar et al., 2012). They like to eat a first meal of fried eggs in the house that the deceased lived in and they consider it a necessity to come be with the grieving family the next morning. Speaking to the grave at the funeral is very important to them (Bahar et al., 2012). A big part of the grieving process takes place in the graveyard and in the deceased’s house. Members of African American culture like to grieve in churches and do not place an emphasis on being around the next day or staying with the grieving family the first night (Bahar et al., 2012).

Both African American culture and Islamic religions prefer religious healing most of the time and keeping their family’s situation to themselves, so they are not likely to reach out for help, but they do not have access to many psychotherapy services and in a survey answered they didn’t know much about therapy or understand why people attend (Coşan, 2015). Western Asian Turkish culture has many differences in how people cope with the pain of the loss compared to African Americans and European cultures in America.

European culture in America sometimes does not involve any religion at all in their second task of mourning unless it is Christianity because there is a steadily increasing amount of people in America who are not religious; this is vastly different from African American and Western Asian cultures of grieving practices. Mourning practices are usually expected to happen relatively fast in European American society, and the grieving period is typically quiet. There is not a lot of time spent grieving and mourning in the graveyard as in the Turkish culture, and attendance at the funeral or continuous support for the grieving family is not always required or readily given either.

These three cultural and religious mourning practices clearly illustrate in broad terms how differently some populations vary in how they process the pain of a loss and in their mourning during task number two.

Third Task of Mourning

In Worden’s theory, task number three of the mourning process is finding ways to adjust to the world and a new life without the deceased (Worden, 2018). This will look different among religions and cultures depending on who was lost and what roles they had while they were living (Worden, 2018). For example in several Arab families from Pakistan who practice Islam, they believe that women are the primary caretakers of children and their husbands at home, so they are not meant to handle their family’s financial situations or obligations outside of the home such as working in professional fields and being the spokesperson for their family’s choices (Wagner).

In some Islamic countries, women are not allowed to travel on their own without their husband or a male relative, and in mourning periods of their husbands, are not supposed to talk to other men outside of their husband’s close ones or familial relatives. This information would be crucial to be aware of during the third mourning task of adjusting to a new life because if the husband passed away, then the Arabic wife may need to find a new husband, move in with a male relative, or find resources of income and someone to handle her financial matters, so that she can continue with her caretaking and housekeeping duties (Wagner).

If the wife or mother in a family meets their end, then her daughters may be forced to grow up faster in order to fulfill their mother’s responsibilities and the father may need to find another wife for the responsibilities at home or bring in another female relative to help him with his family (Wagner). If one of the children passed away in an Arab and Islamic family, then the mother could face extra responsibilities and blame from the husband and other family members, since she is seen as the primary caretaker and housekeeper (Wagner). In Arab culture and households, the third mourning task would be very specific procedures and duties for every individual in the household to adjust to fulfill.

Fourth Task of Mourning

According to Worden’s fourth task of mourning, the population who is going through this process should find ways to remember their loved one, while still continuing on their own journey into their adjusted lives (Worden, 2018). In this task, people are normally towards the end or the second half of their mourning and grief journey; Worden defines this step as reinvesting one’s energy out of the relationship with the deceased and into a new relationship (Worden, 2018).

Some examples of remembering the deceased individual, while still moving forward in life are keeping a piece of their jewelry, having pictures of them around, listening to their old favorite music, visiting their grave or writing them letters every once in awhile, or maybe just remembering them for a moment when doing something they used to enjoy. This way new energy is not being invested into the relationship with the deceased, or causing anxiety, yet keeping the deceased’s memory alive (Worden, 2018).

Worden’s Theory v Lindemann’s Theory

Worden and Lindemann’s theories are similar in some ways, but also different in some aspects as well. Besides the time periods of the research, Worden’s research can fit into Lindemann’s research well because people can examine the similarities of Worden’s steps of mourning that came from the usual sequence of when people tend to cope with grief through their feelings, physical sensations, cognitions, and then behaviors (Worden, 2018). People experiencing the behaviors in a certain sequence normally can match fairly well with the task of mourning they are presently going through. For example, someone who is currently in the second task of mourning and still feeling a lot of pain from the loss would not want to reinvest their energy into another relationship and may feel anxiety or guilty about letting go of the deceased’s items and memories at times; therefore, the person in the first and fourth task of mourning would be having different behaviors as Lindemann was describing.

Another example could be that one person who is in the fourth task of mourning will probably not be denying the death, actively avoiding it, or still crying when somebody mentions their name since they are at the stage where they are ready to invest their time and energy into other relationships; this could mean that one is in the fourth task of mourning if they can actively discuss the person who is deceased and talk about memories of them without crying or without the shock factor of “I still can’t believe it happened.” Worden and Lindemann’s theories also both deal with the process of expressing grief, just in different ways.

Client Strengths in Both of the Theories

Both of these theories are also centered around the client’s strengths. In this way, the clients or research participants are encouraged to express their grief inwardly and outwardly because otherwise there would not be a study. Both theories are meant to help an individual client through the grief and the mourning process in a healthy way that is absolutely normal for people to go through. Both of these theories place a special emphasis on giving the client time and letting them get through the mourning process at their own pace while expressing their internal grief in healthy ways such as crying, gaining social support, talking about the loss, and reminding themselves that both ways of expressing grief are normal and everyone will go through it at one point or another. These theories also specially emphasize the client’s strengths and cultural practices because there is so much variation in both theories that it allows everyone to have their unique way of grieving and mourning a loss that suits their own personality, cultural background, and strengths. Note that all four of the cultural communities of African Americans, Arab families, Turkish communities, and European cultures all went through the same general emotions, behaviors, and cognitions during the mourning process, but they all did it in their own unique ways. One of the benefits in both theories is how nonrestrictive they are for people to experience.

The main difference between the two theories is that Worden’s theory is mainly about how populations express their grief outwardly or externally. Lindemann was primarily focused on how individuals cope with and express their grief internally. Lindemann’s domains of cognitions and emotions in particular focus on the internal expressions of grief unless one expresses them outwardly.

Transpersonal Theory in Cultural Contexts

Several different cultures of people work through the external and internal grief by relying on their spirituality or religion. Carl Jung’s work in the Transpersonal Theory in psychology inevitably relates to the Worden and Lindemann’s grieving and mourning fields of study because many people going through the mourning process and working through their grief will find comfort in believing they are part of something cosmically bigger than themselves (Canda & Furman, 1999). It can also help them by relying on their spirituality or religion to comfort and guide them through their grief or mourning after losing a beloved person, pet, dream (Canda & Furman, 1999). This theory can be beneficial for more religious and spiritual people, since that is where the theory mainly gets its roots (Canda & Furman, 1999). For example, the European American population who does not want religion involved in their mourning processes or in their expression of grief may not find a lot of strength or guidance through this theory if they don’t believe they are a part of any bigger realm. They found meaning in their own loss through other ways besides reasoning that the loss was for a greater cause bigger than themselves or a part of a predestined plan or will for them (Canda & Furman, 1999).

Comparison of Transpersonal, Worden’s, and Lindemann’s Theories 

The main difference between the Transpersonal Theory, Lindemann’s theory, and Worden’s is that Transpersonal Theory is not a general guide for what everyone will encounter or go through during grief and that this theory can potentially highlight a lot of strengths in a client or it could also turn away clients or research participants from dealing with their grief if they don’t believe in spiritual meaning or religious things. Transpersonal Theory is also not created specifically for the grieving and mourning population unlike the other two theories; however, can still be immensely helpful for some people going through grief, mourning, or bereavement.

Transpersonal Theory can be similar to Worden and Lindemann’s theory in the way it can still be differentiated or have many unique interpretations among the grieving and mourning population since some people are spiritual, but not religious and vice versa. Some people like to express their grief through mourning religious rituals. The Turkish culture bathes their loved one’s body in holy oils and water and then prays over them shortly after they pass away. Some people like to believe in a spiritual realm or spirits, but they do not want to express religious traditions or beliefs outside of their own privacy or at all. Some people like to believe their loved one is in a better place; they are not sure where that is, but they believe it is somewhere better than what their circumstances were on earth. Part of that population could also believe in unconventional forms of mourning practices, but still spiritual such as burning some incense or different essential oils while expressing grief and using other ways to cope with their grief besides therapy, such as gardening, journaling, etc. This part of the population still uses the Transpersonal Theory to their advantage, but is not the same as in the religious communities. In these ways Carl Jung’s Transpersonal Theory can be similar and different to Worden’s mourning tasks or Lindemann’s internal grief theory.

Disenfranchised Grief within the Theories

All three of these theories can reflect how somebody is processing the mourning tasks and their grief with disenfranchised grief. The population going through a loss can experience a disenfranchised grief situation, depending on how a loved one died and how society perceives that death or loss may not be worthy of the same amount of grief, sympathy, and mourning. Some examples of disenfranchised grief are when someone passes away from a drug overdose, HIV, AIDS, or suicide. Additional examples of disenfranchised grief include someone chooses an abortion or their ex-spouse, a pet, or someone’s mistress passes away. Society tends to dismiss the grieving and mourning of these losses, either because they automatically believe the one who passed away caused their own death or grief or because they believe the relationship with a pet does not matter as much as a human relationship does; the vast majority of the educated population recognizes that these deaths are valid and deserve to be grieved as much as any other, but many times can be dismissed because of how one’s culture or surroundings can view the loss.

These three theories can have different impacts on someone if they are going through disenfranchised grief. The individual could also develop complicated grief which is an abnormal and unhealthy way to cope with the grief that can bring several more problems for individual.

Some of the population’s mourning tasks could be negatively affected with disenfranchised grief because they could get stuck on the second mourning task of processing their pain if they don’t have any social support for themselves, and it takes longer to stop denying the loss actually happened. If they never have the safe places to talk about their loss or the person who died, they could be stuck in the first mourning task.

In Lindemann’s theory, a disenfranchised person’s emotions can be suppressed and stagnant for a long time and then they can gradually become more aggressive, angry, or hostile towards other people due to the unresolved grief. Their cognitions of not concentrating correctly and having absent mindedness can become a natural part of their life. Their behaviors while going through that grief can also become habits or lifelong behaviors such as crying for several years or never getting to the fourth and final mourning task. They could never even get to the point of using the Transpersonal Theory with disenfranchised grief. All three theories could change in that situation.

All three theories of handling grief and mourning practices help individuals at the microlevel of this population handle their loss in a healthy and normal manner. The mourning tasks each person has along with Lindemann’s domains, and the Transpersonal Theory can all be key parts in someone’s healing journey. Disenfranchised grief would inevitably hurt the process of grief by prolonging or complicating it in every theory, but it could also be difficult depending on what culture and religion an individual belongs to as well. Different cultures, ethnicities, and religions may have other expressions and experiences with grief and the process of mourning. Understanding microlevel grief through the lens of Lindemann, Worden, and Jung may provide a healthy approach to therapeutic intervention.


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Worden, J. W. (2018). Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy (5th ed.). Springer Publishing Company.

Courtney L. Ledgard is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program.  She is earning her school social worker certificate.