We’ve all experienced a loss, the loss of life as we knew it, the loss of a loved one, the loss of safety and security, the loss of a job, the loss of fun gatherings with friends and family… This list can go on and on. We’ve all been affected in some way or another by COVID-19. When we experience loss our natural human tendency is to grieve. Grieving is healthy and being aware of our grief helps us understand ourselves better and respond to others better.
Last night over the supper table I shared a diagram of the stages of grief with my family. We are all grieving because we’ve all experienced losses. We discussed how different people are in different stages of grief and how we’re seeing each other respond as well as our friends we can only see on the internet. If you’re not familiar with the stages of grief, here they are:
My daughter said to me this past weekend, “I’m just pretending that nothing is going on.” This is obviously the denial stage, the first stage of grief. She’s lost more than the rest of us being a college senior whose graduation we were all excited to attend next week. We will celebrate for sure, but it will be different. She’s also lost her citizenship interview that was scheduled in March and canceled. We received a letter saying she will get another letter with another interview but we don’t know when. She also cannot see her boyfriend who lives a good distance away. I’ve also seen people in denial on social media questioning if this is even real. They’re asking if the government is making all of this up. “Where’s the crisis?” they’re shouting on their feeds because they are starting to move into the next stage, Anger.
People are angry about all of this. They’re angry government leaders are making decisions that affect us all in ways that feel pretty huge. We’re all affected in one way or another. I’m glad that I’m not a governor as no matter what decision is made there’s a lot of angry people. Loosen the reigns and everyone will blame you for the virus spreading and you weren’t careful enough. Keep the reigns tight and people are mad at you because they’re tired of staying at home and you become the channel for them to release their stress. Anger abounds and it’s ok to feel it and release it but it’s not ok to harm someone in the release of our anger. If someone feels angry there’s a lot of healthy outlets we can utilize like exercise or screaming into a pillow. I have a colleague who shuts themselves into a closet and says everything they want to scream and they exit the closet released and ok.
We don’t all experience every stage of grief and we can certainly go in and out of any of these stages at different times.
Bargaining is the next stage. My daughter mentioned that maybe we should all just drink poison together and it will all be over! This is an example of bargaining, or trying to find a way out. In this stage we think of ways to get out of our pain. We ask questions like, “What if?” Some people can worsen their lives in the bargaining stage by reaching for a substance that can turn into an addiction and then we have real trouble. In this stage we are struggling to find meaning and are looking for solutions when really most of the time, situations of grief cannot be fixed. Some things that happen to us change us forever.
The next stage is depression. Nobody wants to be depressed but reality is we become depressed sometimes. When we think we are depressed and we feel overcome with despair we need to connect to our circle of support and love. We need an outlet to share our sadness, to talk about it and then it becomes smaller and shrinks a bit. Please know this stage isn’t a sign of mental illness. When someone suffers a loss, depression is a part of the cycle. If someone finds themselves depressed for extended periods of time, then it’s time to seek professional help and have that conversation. It’s ok to be sad when loss comes into our lives. It’s normal.
The last stage is acceptance, when we are able to accept we have suffered a loss but we begin looking forward to our new normal, a new way of life. This doesn’t mean the loss suffered was OK, it just means the person is in a place where they can look ahead, plan and move forward with their lives. This doesn’t mean we will be the same as we were before the loss. We might be different for the rest of our lives, but this loss will not define us or overcome us. We have accepted it happened, we grieved and it’s now a part of who we are like a scar we carry on our skin, just a scar.
Grief can really shake us up, catch us off guard and make us ask why we reacted a certain way. These are uncertain times and we’re all in this cycle of grief together trying to do more than just survive because we all want to do more than just survive. We want to thrive! I’d venture to say that now is not the time to make big life altering changes while we’re in this emotional and stressful situation. A good recipe is to search ourselves and acknowledge what stage of grief we’re in today so we can be self-aware in our conversations and life happenings. We can all glean hope from what momma always said: “This too shall pass.” Sorry to leave you with a cliche, but I’m grieving too.