The 5 stages
There is a well-known psychological theory, called the Kubler-Ross Model, which charts the five-stage emotional progress of people facing death or some kind of traumatic loss. And while it’s not always linear - or even entirely accurate – its progression will be familiar to anyone who has grieved for their own condition, or that of their loved ones.
These five stages are Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. At first we are in shock, and cannot believe what has happened to us. Then we rage against the world before discovering that the flipside of anger is depression. Then we hope we can avoid such grief by doing deals with ourselves or a higher power. Finally, we accept what is and face our mortality with courage or, if we are grieving for others, we find the wound is just starting to heal.
As I’ve mentioned the Kubler-Ross Model is not always straightforward. Very often we swing back and forth through the various cycles before arriving at some conclusion. But an anniversary or similar poignant reminder can plunge us right back to the beginning and although we may cycle through the stages faster next time, the sharpness of the pain is no less than it was at the beginning.
In this time of pandemic we’re all demonstrating one or more (or all!) of these emotions in response to mounting deaths, loss of work, restriction of freedom and deep uncertainty about the future. There are those who rail against the government for not acting in good time; others hide away, fearful and anxious. Many wish that churches, mosques and synagogues could open for healing and strength. We may experience anger, denial and acceptance over the course of a week, a day or even an hour.
Personally, I thought I’d reached the ‘acceptance’ stage very quickly. I should’ve known better. The deep betrayal by and chronic act of selfishness of a person I considered a good friend has driven me towards real anger. “How could you do that?” I think, “especially at a time like this?” At the moment, acceptance seems a long, long way off (if ever, to be honest) and suddenly this incident has, for me, become a metaphor for the whole virus situation – ‘This is unfair’; ‘I am at the mercy of others’; ‘I am vulnerable’; ‘I am scared.’
And yet, to avoid going under altogether, perspective must be sought. If I remain fit and well I hope to emerge into a changed world a better, wiser, more thoughtful human being. My hopes are also for my daughter – 16 this week, bored, restless, but utterly, youthfully optimistic that she has a brighter future ahead. I cried on the day she was born because I couldn’t believe something so wonderful had been gifted to me. And that day was my birthday too. This year, on our ‘special day’, I felt like crying all over again, and not just because 16 marks a kind of parental ‘letting go’ of those childhood years. I want to know she will be safe and sound in the months and years to come and I ask that blessings be upon her – the ‘bargaining’ stage, I suppose, but one which brings its own strange comforts.
If you’re feeling churned up and wrung out at the moment, you’re by no means alone. The sun is out and people are smiling and clapping, but the darkness which underpins this global crisis creeps into the hearts of us all. If you can, just be kind to yourself and others. Understand that you’re experiencing anger, depression and denial and instead of fighting them, allow them to run over you like a stream. That way, acceptance, and the conditions for moving on, will be within your grasp.