May 4, 2020
by Lorelei Ahlemeyer, Campus Advocacy Program Manager
I was sitting on the couch the other day scrolling through social media and was flabbergasted by all of the varying responses I was witnessing to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Initially, I was quite shocked at the anger and outrage I was observing; however, then it started to make sense. America is grieving. I am grieving. Everything was shut down all of a sudden, schools were closed, celebrations were cancelled, and life as we knew it was significantly altered indefinitely. When we think of grief, we often think of death; however, sometimes grief entails much more than a physical death. Grief is a deep sorrow felt from the loss or ending of something significant to you.
When I was in graduate school, I learned about Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s “Stages of Grief.” I couldn’t help but notice how applicable the stages are to today’s situation. I soon started to look at others through a different lens and began to identify what stages I was seeing my friends and family in, and by doing this, I started to understand why they were feeling the way they were.
Denial: Denial is the first of the 5 stages of grief. In this stage the world often feels meaningless and overwhelming. We have a difficult time making sense of our world and only let in as much as we can handle in the moment. Denial actually helps us cope and makes survival possible for us.
Anger: Believe it or not, anger is another necessary stage to the healing process. We need to be willing to feel our anger in the moment, because the more we feel it, the more it will dissipate and we can move on in the healing process. An old professor of mine would say, “Behind every angry outburst, you will find hurt and pain first.”
Bargaining: This often looks like a temporary truce. Such as, “If only I devote my life to others, life will return back to normal and I can wake up and realize this has all been a bad dream.” The “if only” causes us to find fault in ourselves and we think of what we could have done differently to prevent all of this. This stage keeps us in the past sometimes trying to negotiate our pain. Many people move in and out of this stage.
Depression: Grief enters our life on a deep level. Sometimes it can feel like this stage will last forever. Depression after a loss is oftentimes seen as “abnormal,” but it’s important to note that this kind of depression isn’t a sign of mental illness, but is an appropriate response after experiencing great loss. Not experiencing any depression after a significant loss would actually be an unusual response. Depression is another necessary step to healing through our grief.
Acceptance: This stage is often confused with the notion of everything “being ok, or being alright with everything.” This stage is really about accepting the reality of the situation. In this stage, we really begin to live again, but we can’t do so without giving grief its time to process.
There are a lot of people struggling right now. People that already have existing traumas in their life are now attempting to deal with those without their coping mechanisms. 1 in 5 Americans are currently on unemployment, domestic violence calls for assistance are up, national suicide hotlines are overwhelmed, food production workers are getting sick, and the list goes on. In an already ever-divisive world, my biggest take away for you is to be KIND to people in their process of grief and understand that everyone is in different stages and processing things differently on their own time. Let’s support each other during this stressful time and as Fred Rogers quoted, “When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers; you will always find people who are helping.’ Let’s continue to do our part having an unconditional, positive regard for humanity and help because this too will pass in time.
(This is the first of two posts about grief. The second is linked here.)