Life Disruption and Stages of Grief by Gail Lalk

written by Gail Lalk, LPC, LCADC, Therapist at Young Adult Therapy

Gail is a dear friend of mine. She originally posted this on LinkedIn but gave me permission to share this with you.

In the United States, we are in the early weeks of managing the impact that the coronavirus pandemic will have on our lives. As I write this, the virus has cropped up in all 50 states and there are a handful of “hot spots” that seem to have a relatively large number of confirmed cases. Each day, as new data comes in and new cases are reported, communities around the country step up their efforts to protect public health. The measures that are being taken are increasingly infringing upon people’s livelihoods, lifestyles, and norms of daily life.

One way to view how people are coping with the impact of coronavirus is to consider this as a grief process. The Stages of Grief model, initially proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969 to explain the process of emotions experienced upon learning of terminal illness, has since been applied to numerous situations in which loss is a primary component of the context leading to emotional upheaval. The stages of grief in the Kubler-Ross model are:

    1. Denial
    2. Anger
    3. Depression
    4. Negotiation (meaning-making)
    5. Acceptance/Transcendence.

 

People experiencing loss can expect to go through these stages and fall back to previous stages as the situations that define the losses change over time.

How does this model apply to the coronavirus? We can expect to experience many different potential “losses,” including actual loss of loved ones who succumb to the disease. But other losses that may impact our mental health include loss of income, loss of livelihood, loss of special events, loss of connection to loved ones, loss of independence, and loss of daily activities. For many, this pandemic causes a loss of confidence in the ability to continue living life as it had been previously planned. A good first step in coping with the emotions of the grief process is to identify specifically what losses are being felt. Once those losses are articulated, one can more easily identify where one is in the grief process and try to have faith that at the tail end of the process, acceptance and transcendence can renew our spirits and our motivation, albeit with some of the parameters of our current lives modified.

Here are some examples of how the stages of grief might be playing out for different individuals right now.

DENIAL:

o  The virus is not real.

o  The virus is real, but if we just don’t get so worried about it and go on with our lives, it won’t be such a big deal.

o  This is not really a big deal and it will go away without me having to take action personally.

o  The virus isn’t in my community yet so I can keep doing what I’m doing until it is.

o  The virus is bad for other people who are older or have compromised immune systems, but it wouldn’t be more than a cold for me, so I should just be able to keep doing what I do.

o  I am older than 60, but I’m in really good shape and age is just a number, so I’ll categorize myself with the younger people.

ANGER:

o  My life has been disrupted and I’m not even sick!

o  I am not able to go on vacation that has been planned for months.

o  The school play should be allowed to go on because we all worked so hard.

o  I can’t eat at a restaurant!

o  My child’s college has gone online and told everyone to go home, and this is really inconvenient for us.

o  My employer just told me they don’t need my services because business is slow.

o  I can’t even get my nails done?

o  I was supposed to defend my thesis in two months and I already accepted a new job that depends on that.

o  Working from home is really hard.

o  People aren’t taking this seriously!

DEPRESSION:

o  I’m feeling really sad about all of the people who are suffering around me.

o  I’m sad about not feeling in control.

o  I don’t know what to do with my time.

o  I am being expected to work from home and monitor my kids’ schoolwork, and I feel overwhelmed.

o  The news keeps pouring in and it gets worse and worse, making me feel hopeless.

o  I can’t go to my religious services.

o  I was just about to start a new job and now I can’t.

NEGOTIATION (MEANING-MAKING)

o  I will never complain about going to work again once I go back.

o  If I have to stay home, I will take up a new hobby.

o  If the whole family is going to be together inside, maybe we can work on cleaning out the basement so that we can renovate.

o  I wasn’t doing very well in school so maybe if I work hard on the distance learning, I can get my grades up.

o  I haven’t read a real book in years. Maybe this is a good time to do that since I am unable to go out as much.

o  No restaurants mean maybe I can learn to cook and maybe my kids can learn too.

ACCEPTANCE/TRANSCENDENCE:

o  This has changed the way I think about the material goods I have and the privilege I have experienced.

o  I now realize that there are plenty of ways to stay entertained in my home and I kind of want to hang on to some of what I’ve learned through this.

o  I’m not nearly as materialistic as I used to be.

o  I am hearing reports that air pollution was reduced drastically during this time. Maybe if I, personally, use my car less and work from home when I can, it will help the planet.

o  I have survived something really difficult! I feel more resilient.

o  I am so impressed that my children handled this crisis so well.

I encourage everyone who is feeling that their emotions are swinging wildly to think about how they might be moving through this grief process. For many of us, this experience is the most difficult thing we’ve ever had to do. Consider that for many others, earlier experiences in their lives have been harder than this. While you evaluate your own grief journey, check in with your friends and family and the neighbors you might barely know and make sure they are managing. Finding meaning and making changes that improve how you and others live in the future are goals that can hopefully keep you motivated through this process.

As always, I can be reached through my website at www.youngadulttherapy.com

Sheri Iannetta Cupo
[email protected]