Graduate school at the University of Cincinnati afforded me the opportunity to pursue my interest in both education and psychology. Through my studies I learned a great deal about Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, who worked with people diagnosed with terminal illnesses. In her book, On Death and Dying, she wrote of five stages she observed terminally ill individuals wrestling with from the point of learning their diagnosis through the course of the illness. Those stages are often referred to as the stages of grief or the stages of loss.
Over time, people have often tried to use the stages to explain behaviors during all types of loss. I don’t always agree with those applications. That said, I’m sharing an application of my own.
I’ve been observing the ebb and flow of American responses to COVID-19 over the course of these last few months. I can make a case for our reactions following Kübler-Ross’s five stages. You probably can, too.
The stages are as follows:
I first heard about this pandemic in early December, 2019 via Facebook. A young doctor in Wuhan, China was sounding the plea for prayers. He said it was the worst illness he had seen. Because of his fear, he had not returned home to his wife who was pregnant with their first child. “I fear none of us will survive this,” he wrote. Sound familiar? It did to me. I had heard those very words from a friend in Taiwan during the SARS outbreak.
My thoughts were probably much like yours: Those poor people. And It won’t happen here. Even as we watched the horrific images coming out of Italy, we patted ourselves on the back and assured ourselves it wouldn’t reach our shores.
But it already had. Denial.
Anger is the next stage. Predictably, we as a country reached that stage early on. Some lingered there –assigning blame and pointing fingers; First, at the Chinese who had the audacity to get sick first and then at the doctors who couldn’t seem to come up with a quick fix.
Denial and anger still rage. We hear it when people say, “I don’t need a mask and no one is going to make me wear one!”
Bargaining. Marked by statements such as “If only we’d gone to the doctor sooner” or “If only we’d been warned earlier.” Some people try to strike a deal with God while others ask, “What if we had taken this pandemic seriously from the beginning?” And a few are bargaining with the very lives we’re supposed to protect, fearing that a dip in economy is worse than somebody else’s son dying. I’m not being cynical here. I am merely listening and observing rhetoric surrounding COVID-19.
Depression. It’s real. I’ve listened to friends who feel “overwhelmed” or “isolated and so alone.” Some are confused. I can’t fault them that. Clarity on what to do in a pandemic has NOT been the norm. We’ve all received mixed messages. Only if we begin to feel stuck –without hope—do we need to worry. A slightly depressed state in this COVID-19 environment is normal.
But all this serves to bring me to the final stage described by Kübler-Ross: Acceptance.
I watched acceptance emerge this past week in my own family. Something happened—be it a trigger of some sort or perhaps simply the rolling by of time. I don’t know exactly what it was, but my oldest daughter who had been taking her computer here and there in the house to do her work, transformed her “scrapbooking” area, her crafting desk, into a home office.
At the same time, my youngest daughter, whose company has made a decision to not open their building again until sometime in 2021, painted the guest bedroom and established it as her work area. She, her husband, and two daughters each painted a canvas for the space using vibrant colors and whatever technique they chose.
Acceptance is healthy. It isn’t giving-in or giving-up. Acceptance is moving forward. It’s living within healthy guidelines and advancing to a place of thriving.
But now I offer one more stage. A stage of healing called Embracing.
Last week I wrote of a church in the Cincinnati area moving beyond acceptance to a place of embracing a new way to reach out to people. Embracing is healthy. Even healthier than “acceptance.” If you missed that post, you can click on it HERE.
No, schools in our area of the country haven’t been able to move to that place yet, save one. Middletown school, just north of Cincinnati made an early decision to not open building doors. Their teachers have a jump start on making stellar digital delivery of instruction a viable option. School board members are working to meet the diverse needs of their student population in new and creative ways. Will it be perfect? No. It will be better than those school districts stuck in the bargaining stage, though. It’s a process. A complicated one.
Where are you in the scheme of things? What are you doing to move through this strange time? I would love to hear how other people and groups are both accepting and in some cases embracing change as a new and even exciting opportunity.