I was on the phone with my friend Ian, who lives in South Africa, discussing how completely irrational some people we know had become lately, acting out in ways that we could never have imagined just a few months ago or even a few weeks ago. He questioned whether everyone is grieving, not necessarily just for the loss of a quarter-million people worldwide, although that’s certainly part of it, but for a life they once knew, took advantage of, and may never know again.
Maybe we are collectively going through stages of grief, person by person, city by city, and possibly country by country until we collectively have grieved all together.
The Five Stages of Grief, as defined by the Kubler-Ross Model, was designed to describe the emotions of terminally ill patients as they approach their death or the emotional states of individuals who have recently lost a loved one. The world, and in particular the United States, fits into both of these categories depending on how you look at it. Plenty of people are actually and sincerely grieving from losing a loved one, and plenty are terminally ill.
But the rest of the world is grieving for the life that they used to have. This has the potential to move them into grieving in a different way if we aren’t collectively careful.
It’s hard to speculate about every other country, but it’s apparent that here in the United States we are heading into Stage Three; Bargaining. Somehow, we got through the first two stages without anyone noticing that it was grief we were facing. As the second month of isolation and lockdown nears completion, the stages became suddenly more apparent; it just took a phone conversation with a friend 8,000 miles away to notice something that was on my front steps.
The first stage is Denial. I think there is more than enough evidence that does not need to be written here that we already went through this stage. Slow reaction from elected officials, reports from news stations that this was nothing more than the flu, and the general public flooding bars and beaches like it was just another day are just a few tiny examples. But we flew through this stage.
Denial is short-lived in most situations and this one was no different. By the first week of April, there was almost no way to deny what was happening.
The second stage is Anger and if you have watched the news at all in the past few weeks you probably saw an armed militia surround a capitol building. This was an extreme example of protesters going through Stage Two, where anger completely clouded their judgment, which is something that commonly happens according to the Kubler-Ross Model. But protests were actually seen all around the world during this time.
During the pandemic of 1918, there were similar groups formed in the United States as people couldn’t take the pressure of being nervous and scared every day and lashed out in an irrational way that actually put them in more danger. We’re lucky that the armed protests didn’t end in gun violence which could have needlessly killed more innocent people.
Here we are entering the Third Stage; Bargaining. The line between Anger and Bargaining is still being straddled by most but we are pushing to open the country back up under the circumstance that we won’t let this happen again. As things open back up and the death toll rises, we’ll start bargaining harder and harder.
We’ll wear our facemasks (kind of), we’ll clean up after ourselves (maybe), and we promise to be very, very careful because the last thing we want is another lockdown. We have learned our lesson already and we need to move on from all this. We are bargaining our own lives for the sake of the economy.
We will move on but it will be to the last two stages of grief which are Depression and Acceptance accordingly. Who knows how long the bargaining stage will last and since we’re not quite there yet, it may be longer than we can even imagine. A collective depression may coincide with the next Great Depression, even if the irony is way too strong there or maybe it’s just too obvious.
Acceptance is when hope can begin again and that still feels a long way off. Talking it through might help and bringing this out into the open may help people move through the stages a little quicker. We might get some false hope when the virus slows down this summer, but if it ramps up again as hard as it did the first time and we have to lock everything down once more, the stages could begin all over again.