Stages of Grief and COVID

This pandemic has been going on for what feels like a long time. Here in Central PA we are entering month 19. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way – That COVID is a mass trauma event and we suck at grieving the loss of normal.

So many still think that we are going back to whatever it was before COVID hit. Too many think that pre-COVID was normal. It wasn’t, it was just the norm we had adopted. And when the pandemic hit that norm no longer worked. It wasn’t normal or healthy to begin with, so no wonder it didn’t work.

We haven’t taken the time to mourn that norm that we were encrusted in and considered to be normal. I think we’re going through the stages of grief without really talking about it.

Depending on who you read, you’ll come across a variety of lists about the stages of grief. Here’s a list I like:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining (or coping with loss)
  • Depression
  • Acceptance.

What I observe is that we have many people who are all over those stages. Just like all people who grieve, there isn’t a nice set pattern or length of time in grieving.

I have encountered many people who deny that COVID is real. It’s not really about COVID though – it’s about denial that something has changed and the person no longer feels like they are in control.

I have encountered angry people – angry over masks and vaccinations. Again, it’s not really about masks and vaccinations – they are grieving the loss of whatever control they thought they had.

I have met people who are trying to cope with the loss. Bargaining is really about trying to avoid the pain of loss. It’s about trying to bargain away the feeling of loss of control over life.

I’m starting to encounter more people who are caught in depression during this grieving process. This is an important step because it means that all the other attempts we have made at trying to exert control have failed and we recognize the failure. We’re starting to deal with the new reality.

I have met very few who have moved to acceptance. We’re just not there yet. Which isn’t surprising really. COVID has caused a huge change in norms and habits. That takes a long time for people to adjust to – especially when we are dealing with unchartered waters and creating new norms and habits.

As much as I would love to move right to acceptance, I also know that the other stages of grief are really important because it’s the only way that we can realize that we never really had control in the first place. We have have that lie ripped away from us and mourn the loss of the lie we told ourselves. It is only when that happens that acceptance can come. The stages of grief are important and do important work on us. They prepare us like tilling ground – making it ready for a new season of growing.

I look forward to the new season of growing. But I recognize that if we don’t till the ground, break it up, loosen it, that the season of growth will be less than desirable. It won’t create a full harvest.

So let people go through their stages of grief. For as long as it takes. Because when enough people get to acceptance, then the growth will happen. New norms will be created. Hopefully healthier habits and relationships will begin to grown. I look forward to that time. And in the mean time I’ll wait for folks. But I’m not waiting sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I’m moving forward. I’ll keep proclaiming and inviting into new ways of being. And I’ll celebrate when each new person jumps on board. I’ll mourn the loss of people who decide they can’t come along. And I’ll keep going because that’s what I’m called to.

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