The famous “five stages of grief” were formulated and described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her books: On Death and Dying and On Grief and Grieving. The sixth was add by her colleague, David Kessler. Most experts agree that emotional experience is not uniform or linear, but highlighting some universal processes and what they feel like can be comforting and validating. I’ve been thinking a lot about those stages as our world struggles to deal with mourning life as we knew it:
Denial: For many individuals and communities, the initial reaction we had when the news of COVID19 hitting our shores was one of: “Oh, that’s just one of those things that the media will create hype and hysteria about. It’ll be fine- it’s basically like the flu. It’s not fun, but most people will just have some mild symptoms.” There was a false sense of invincibility about us. This was so hard to believe, that we sort of rejected it. Not us, not here, not that bad. Even now, when there is no denying the apocalyptic quality of the repercussions of this virus world-wide, we retreat into moments of denial, in order to occasionally indulge in a feeling of safety.
Anger: People are angry. Angry at China. Angry at other people who are not taking the recommended precautions seriously. Angry at family members who are just spending too much time in our personal space. Angry at G-d. Angry at themselves. And angry at the world. We get to feeling like things are “supposed’ to be safe, secure, and orderly. How dare Corona mess with that? It sometimes feels better to blame than to cry, at least in the short term.
Bargaining: Ok- we got it. This is serious. We will shut down all the gatherings and nonessential everythings. We will wash our hands, wear masks, social-distance (as a verb), quarantine, buy all the toilet paper, and homeschool our kids. We will pray and make donations and post encouragement to each other all over the internet. We can “zoom” our jobs, right? But, hey, Corona? Once we play by your rules, we surrender to your power- can you leave us alone?
Depression: Hospitals are overflowing. The death toll is skyrocketing. Our lives as we know them have effectively stopped. We are clearly powerless against this evil force. We weep and give up any last shreds of illusion of control. We consume many carbs and Netflix episodes and post the F-bomb all over social media. We forget what day of the week it is, and our circadian sleep patterns. Showering and getting dressed are optional. Crying is frequent.
Acceptance: So here we are. We don’t know how long this will last, but it won’t be quick. We try to breathe, and pace ourselves. We can’t fight this thing directly, so we begin to focus on what we can do. One day at a time. Trying to be sanitary while preserving our sanity. All this change and isolation is lonely and scary and depressing but it’s what we need to do for now. Set ourselves up to function in this limited way as best we can and hope for the best.
Meaning: Why is this happening to us? We don’t really know. But sometimes, some of us can use it as a catalyst for personal growth. Some days are harder than others. Some moments and circumstances are about survival and grace, for being patient with ourselves and our loved ones. But others- those other special moments, when we have the wherewithal to ask: How can I be of service? How can I use this nightmare as a springboard to hone the best version of myself? How can I help those less fortunate? How can I be creative, resourceful, and contributive in the face of this colossal challenge? Those moments are where the magic happens. When we clap for the medical heroes and raise money for the ill and bereft. When we collaborate to honor the fallen and support the sick. When we find the resilience to count our own blessings and share them with others. That is the stuff that keeps us going, creating light within the darkness.