Learning from the stages of grief
When I was in graduate school (1975), I signed up for a Health Science class entitled, “On Death and Dying.” I’ll never forget our professor telling us on the first day of class, “Whether you like it or not, death is the common denominator for us all. We are all born and we will all die.” While there was definite shock value in his statement – it was the truth.
Ironically, I learned more about how I truly wanted to live my life in that class than I did in any other class I took in my college years. Part of the course curriculum dealt with the 5 Stages of Grief theorized by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
Those five stages of grief are:
Denial – Refusal to believe that a loss is real.
Anger – Feelings that occur after the loss actually happens. These feelings can range from marginal frustration to all out fury.
Bargaining – Attempting to strike a deal with ourselves or a higher power to eliminate the pain we are feeling from the loss. Feelings of guilt are often associated with this stage – what we could have done or should have done before the loss.
Depression – Deep sadness that sets in with the realization that our lives will never be the same. This form of depression is considered a natural response and not a form of mental illness.
Acceptance – When we finally get to a place where we realize that the loss has occurred and we cannot change what has happened. This does not mean, however, that our grieving is over.
Now, why do I choose to reflect on this subject today? Because as we find ourselves home-bound and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, many people I know appear to be living through one or more of these five stages of grief. To me, that is not all so surprising because, in essence, we have lost something – our normal way of life! Many of us may find ourselves grieving the ‘loss of life’ as we once knew it. So, if we are grieving, if we find ourselves dealing with any of these feelings, my question is, What can we learn from those feelings?
First, there is no denying (Stage 1) that COVID-19 is another common denominator for us all. We are ALL vulnerable.
We may not like this but it’s true. We all find ourselves on the same playing field and are learning that there is another common denominator for us all, something called COVID-19. It matters not how much money you make, what kind of car you drive, what kind of house you live in, what your job title is, etc., we are all susceptible to COVID-19 and yes, we are all being impacted by it. It is useless to live in denial.
Second, the inconvenience that COVID-19 has introduced into our lives has made some of us angry (Stage 2).
Again, very true, but being angry does not make the situation any better. In fact, it makes it worse. This is a time when we must release our anger and focus instead on ‘controlling the controllable’ (the things we can control) in our lives. In the end, we need to understand that this is God’s world and ultimately, we are NOT the ones in control.
Third, what is there to bargain for? (Stage 3)
We didn’t ask for this hideous virus to infect us. There is no bargaining it away. The best we can do is act responsibly, practicing ‘social distancing’ and good hygiene in hoping to flatten the curve. Guilt? What guilt? None of us asked or wished for this. Move on!
Fourth, the depression (Stage 4) we may be feeling is not ‘depression as a mental illness’, it is a natural response to what we are dealing with.
If you are alone, think not about being lonely but instead, try to find comfort and value in the solitude you are experiencing. Take time to get into the word and read your Bible, to journal, to exercise, to watch movies, to clean out cluttered closets, and yes, to make sure you are getting adequate rest. Make the most of your friendships. Get on the Internet and contact old friends via social media. This is the time to do the many things you always said “I never have time to do.” Try to see your time alone, your solitude, as a blessing in disguise.
Last, we all need to come to the acceptance (Stage 5) that our real hope in this life comes from God.
Ah, it is in this stage, even if our grieving is not over, that we find hope knowing that God is truly here with us. As a ‘man of faith’ who has dealt with my fair share of personal setbacks and disappointments in life, it was when I accepted the reality of having the living presence of Jesus Christ in my life, I found my strength, I found comfort, and He renewed my hope for a better tomorrow. He saved me. In Isaiah 41:10 we find an affirmation that can help any of us in need…
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I
will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous
These are ‘beyond challenging’ times. Fortunately for us, we are ‘beyond blessed.’ As we go forward in our lives, let’s make sure we start and end each day in prayer. Let’s be thankful for all that God has given us and rely on Him for the answers we are searching for. We need not deny, be angry, think we can bargain our way out of or become depressed about what we are going through. Instead, we need to accept what we are dealing with knowing that God has a plan for each and every one of us. Be strong. Be Brave. Be one with God.