We can recite the Kubler-Ross stages of grief as a formula for loss (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance), but it is important to remember that they were stages designed to humanise people’s experience of the end of their own life. They are not a prescription or a roadmap. They are simply observations of valid human experiences. The large and small losses we experiencing now call for us to be equally compassionate and empathetic with human experience.
The losses are manifold. From the deaths of celebrities, acquaintances, friends and relatives, from illnesses encountered alone, to businesses devastated, all the way through to the minor incovenience of a spring day experienced wearing a mask on a time-limited exercise break. For many people privileged by the progress of the 20th century, the losses of life, of health, and of liberty are a first startling encroachment. For others, they are a sharing of a daily experience.
We must remember that as devastating as the major losses are, the psychological effects of an accumulation of minor loss can be wearing. The valid experiences that Kubler-Ross describes can manifest at any time. We can ask for grit and resilience, but everyone has a limit and those limits kick in at different points and under different triggers.
Remember all the responses are human responses. Kubler-Ross didn’t preface the phases with rational or measured. All the responses whether a rant on Facebook or a flood of tears or a silent stalking depression are human responses. They may be ill-informed or dangerous, but that too is a human characteristic. As a community we need to understand, empathise and wrap our arms around all who are suffering
Fatigue is real in 2020.
A Human Response
Goal oriented, purposeful and positive communities can forget the human experience of loss. We know organisations, governments, bigotry and processes can dehumanise us, but it is also important to remember that an expectation of endless universal even sunniness of demeanour is also dehumanising. Real humans don’t experience the world that way. Organisations that make that a condition of participation in an organisational community create new risks, as they sweep loss and sadness under the carpet. Postivity and optimism are virtues but they cannot be expectations. We may need them to be balanced with some cold hard cynicism for the work to get done.
Empathetic communities and organisations embrace the diversity of human experience. They don’t ask people to cut off their capabilities to fit into boxes of roles or emotional straight jackets. These communities embrace the diversity of human experience because it is both functional and a path to enabling people to realise their potential. Without ways to process loss, some people never move past it or worse transfer the anger and frustration of that loss to the conspiracies of the algorithmic bubble.
We all need more empathy. This blog at this time is a process of bargaining with the many minor losses and challenges that I have been experiencing through the Covid pandemic and more recently Melbourne’s strict lockdown. For those more used to its corporate content I ask forgiveness. I know I am a lucky one with plenty of work, health and support. I have escaped major loss but I still feel the small losses keenly and grapple with my human reactions. I hope that my bargains may help others dealing with other experiences of the Kubler-Ross stages.
Public health is ultimately community in action. Community is our path to changing the trajectory of the pandemic and community should be our comfort through this experience. We need to focus on all the communities of which we belong, invest in their health and wellbeing. Ultimately our empathy, sharing and investment in others is the way we move forward together.