In my role as pastor, I get asked to be present in moments of intense grief and loss. These moments may come in the wake of a death, a family dispute, or as counsel in times of personal turmoil and anguish.
I have found that one of the most powerful tools in helping people through such moments is information and personal presence – removing the mystery of the grief process and being present with people in the midst of it. When we can identify and name our experiences and emotions, we have a much better chance of being able to navigate through them.
In such times of grief, I have found the “Five Stages of Grief,” a model formulated by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, to be particularly helpful. In a recent interview with the Harvard Business Review, David Kessler, co author of Kübler-Ross’ book of grief, described the stages of grief we are all experiencing related to the COVID 19 pandemic as follows:
“There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: ‘This virus won’t affect us.’ There’s anger: ‘You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities.’ There’s bargaining: ‘Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right?’ There’s sadness: ‘I don’t know when this will end.’ And finally there’s acceptance. ‘This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.’”
The reality is, however, that most people do not experience these stages in a linear manner. They can shift between stages in various orders and return to previous stages as the waves of grief ebb and flow.
We, as a society, are experiencing a profound season of collective grief. We are grieving the changes brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic with its isolation, financial turmoil, and seemingly endless uncertainty. On top of that, we are grieving increased racial unrest in our nation, an increasingly polarized political landscape, and any number of other issues.
In my conversations over the past couple of weeks, I have heard my friends and church members articulate each of these stages in their own attempts to process this historical moment. Some are still in denial. Some of them are angry and aren’t afraid to let you know about it. Depression has caused some to emotionally withdraw. As a collective society, we are grieving different events, in different ways, along different timelines, and at different stages.
In moments of intense collective grief, it becomes all the more important to recognize and name what we are feeling. It is essential for us to tap into the same grace we would offer to a friend who was personally grieving. It is absolutely necessary to tap into those practices that remind us of our common humanity and connect us with the Divine in some meaningful and transcendent way.
Only then will we have the resources to get off of this carousel of confusion and this merry-go-round of madness. Only when we unplug from the incessant drone of cultural outrage will we have the chance to hear the voice of God. Only then will cultural healing be a true possibility.