Just for the sake of learning, I have been reading a book on grief. It has been really interesting to read about many of the different ways that people grieve. For those of you interested, the book I’m reading is called On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. and David Kessler. Elisabeth is best known for coming up with the five stages of death*, which was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients. It has been especially interesting to read about the five stages of grief and see them played out in my life and in the lives of those around me during this pandemic.
The first of the five stages of grief is denial. Grief-denial isn’t really so much “this didn’t happen” as much as it is “this doesn’t feel real.” Back at the beginning of the pandemic, I remember thinking, “this isn’t a big deal,” “this will all blow over in a few weeks,” etcetera. I had also heard this from others. It hadn’t quite sunk in yet that we were in for extremely unprecedented times - even more so than before the pandemic (were times ever precedented?).
After denial comes anger. I think it’s safe to say that most of us experienced this, and some of us still are. We get angry at those who aren’t following the rules. We get angry at our family/roommates for being so annoying (was this house always this small before we were stuck here?). We get angry at the government and others who have to enforce the new rules. We even get angry at God for letting something like this happen in the first place.
Bargaining comes next. Bargaining gives us a sense of hope – it’s a lot of “if’s”. If we just stay the blazes home, wear our masks, physically distance, and not let anyone into our province, we’ll get through this and be able to get on with life as normal. It’s not a bad thing to have hope. But what happens when bargaining doesn’t work – when we say or do all the right things, but it doesn’t get better?
Grief-depression is different from clinical depression. Clinical depression should absolutely be diagnosed and treated, while grief-depression eventually passes and is actually healthy for the healing process, no matter how grim things may seem. Both are real, both are valid. It never hurts to talk to someone to sort it out. There is no doubt that this pandemic has affected almost everyone’s mental health. Job loss, isolation, learning to work from home, being around family/roommates all the time, financial issues, increased meaningless screen time, cancelled church services, and hearing about yet another new case has contributed to the decline of mental wellness.
The fifth stage is acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean we’re okay with what’s going on. It simply means we acknowledge that life goes on and adapt to our new situation. During this pandemic, it means investing in reusable masks. It means adapting to a new way of doing ministry (not just saying “this would be great to do after the pandemic”… what can you do now?). It means changing up your shopping trip so that you can follow the arrows in the grocery store. Life goes on, and so must we.
I found this book so helpful in understanding grief. It also made me more aware of the different ways that Jesus grieved. When Lazarus died, he wept before praying to the Father in his grief. When John the Baptist died, Jesus got on a boat and went to a desolate place to be alone with the Father. When Jesus was in the garden just before he was betrayed, he was praying from a place of lament and agony. Continually, Jesus prayed in the midst of his grief. The key thing I want you to leave with: Keep praying through every stage of grief you find yourself in in these difficult times. Rest in knowing that in every season, every moment, God does not abandon us in the dark.
*It is important for me to note here that the five stages of grief is not a hard-and-fast rule. One thing that Elisabeth regretted in her book, On Death and Dying, is this misunderstanding that if someone did not go through this process in order, or if they did not go through this process at all, then they did not grieve correctly. She makes it clear in this book, On Grief & Grieving, that grief is as individual as you are.
Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth, Kessler, David. On Grief & Grieving. New York: Scribner, 2005.