While many have witnessed it themselves, there are a few who question Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s model for the Five Stages of Grief. The reason I knew them to be true for the cultures I am familiar with, was because my Dad loved to visit veterans he knew in hospital, and that lead little me to encounter many people in various stages of dying.
Because my accident had lead me to notice patterns –most generously in relation to human behaviour and language– I had seen the pattern independently, before I knew of Kübler-Ross’s description of it.
It’s true that people can move about within that space, but I knew the fundamental parts of it to be true in all of my experience. Although it did often present in ways that I saw people misinterpret.
In a previous post I discussed how useful it can be to people who are confined together, to learn more about each others emotional outlets and that we should provide people extra emotional ‘room’ when they were in states that were the most difficult for them.
This post is about how we must do the same thing with the stages of grief that each of those mindsets will eventually travel through.
Most of us have already felt the shock of the first stage, Denial. We all remember thinking, there’s no way they’re cancelling professional sports and all concerts is there? You mean we’re all just going to stay home from work for a month? Kids won’t go back to school? No one believed it. Some still don’t. This is entirely expected.
Those who live with little ego or expectation could follow the literal evidence to their current state. The more Aspy a personality was about calculating their reality rather than desiring it, the more accepting they would have been at accepting the new reality.
Meanwhile, those with the strongest attachments to how things previously were –those are the people that will have a great deal of very honest difficulty in accepting this shift in reality. This is why, coming out of denial, they will naturally grow angry as they thrash against and and complain loudly about these changes.
We should not see that bluster as stupid or meaningless. That is the inevitable stage of Anger and all we can do is find ways to constructively move through it. For some it will take hours. For a few it can take years. But our skill in managing our consciousness can see those years become months, or even weeks, and in some cases even days.
Of course, on the day that this is being written, the angry stage is where many people in the Western world are at. This is to be anticipated when many industries are shut down and anyone involved with crowds can’t work. Yet if we gather there is a health stress price to pay.
There is no easy way out. Both the financial and health pain is very real and some anger is inevitable. But getting ahead of it can help with our management of the stages we’re going through. If we can see it as not being about ‘our lives,’ but rather as being a ‘normal stage’ in dealing with COVID, then we can traverse it, rather than feel that we are the state we’re in.
Currently, many Western nations are looking at coming out from the lockdown for the first time, and many Asian nations are reconsidering their level of public activity. Obviously, a large segment of society has moved past denial and anger and they are now engaged with Bargaining.
This is the stage where we’re still hoping we can somehow make some small sacrifices and escape major pain. And we likely can, to some degree. But when something is as monumental as this, we are all best to prepare for major changes and instead be excited about finding ways to capitalize on those new conditions in ways that will help us feel better.
While some are currently bargaining, many have slipped into the penultimate stage: Depression. This is where it feels like we are farthest from our goal. The ‘old us’ won’t do in this new reality. Much like after a divorce, or a significant death, or even an important job loss, we will find ourselves without purpose and direction. That is what it is to be depressed.
Fortunately, our way out is quite pleasant. Because once we have reached a level of Acceptance about our new circumstances, that is when we begin to really live within our new reality, rather than to just exist alongside of it.
From that point we don’t need any more stages because we are fine. Even if we are far behind in our material wealth, the return of purpose and direction will provide us all with the meaning that drives our lives forward and we will feel even stronger and wiser than before.
About the only thing that could be described as true ‘mental health’ would be our proficiency at moving through these stages consciously, with intention. But even without it, humans have a natural wisdom, and in most cases even the most resistant person eventually does move through each of the stages to recovery.
Between here and when things improve, it is only a matter of having patience with ourselves during the stages in between. In the end, managing our consciousness while going through change will often be a bigger challenge that living through the change itself.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.