No matter what you think the future holds, one thing is for certain. The world will never be the same. We can’t pretend like we don’t know just how easy it is for a microscopic organism to sweep across our planet, paralyze our supply chains, kill millions, and completely change any semblance of normal life. No, it didn’t happen this time but, we now know it’s possible. We have now come face to face with a new reality in a world that is more connected than ever before. Within our strength comes our greatest weakness. We depend upon each other.
A community experiencing grief is not much different than a person experiencing grief. We may be at different stages at different times but, the process is the same. So, where are we on the spectrum of grief and what’s next?
For all of us, there was a moment when it finally hit us that OUR lives were going to be affected and not just the people on the screen. Many people ran to the stores to stock up on essential items, the FBI ran 3.7 million firearm background checks in the month of March, all non-essential businesses were forced to close, and governors began to outline “shelter in place” orders. Life changed overnight and it was like we were living in the Twilight Zone. It did not seem real.
This was the SHOCK that one experiences when the news first hits them that something unimaginable has happened. It may not have been as acute as some forms of shock. For many it was more of a slow-burning realization, an undercurrent of anxiety, or a racing mind that could not stop. What was going to happen?
Although this was a difficult time for so many, grief did what it usually does to a population and it brought us together. Amidst all the fear came monumental acts of bravery and service as the world worked together to slow the spread. It was truly inspirational to see city streets, void of people, as the human race hunkered down to protect each other. It may have been the single greatest act of love and solidarity that the world has ever seen.
Just like the impermanence of each moment, parts of the world began to fracture and change as we moved along in our attempt to understand. The next phase of grief had begun to creep in…DENIAL.
Many people became experts overnight and touted the info they found through their late night google searches. We didn’t want to believe that something so abstract could slowly cripple our way of living, our collective life force, and our freedom. No one wanted to admit that there was a real risk to them or the people they loved. Most deniers still conceded with clenched fists. Some people are still in this phase and are completely denying that anything significant ever took place. They believe that everyone is “overreacting”.
As people move out of denial, I now believe that many are moving into the 3rd phase of grief. This is ANGER. The human spirit is difficult to keep down and energy builds, even in periods of sadness and depression. There is a slow rumbling happening as billions of people sit, cooped up in their homes and apartments. Whether it was the promise of help that never came, staring at broken dreams, or pure exhaustion, the world is coming alive with blame, projection, and frustration. We may be able to stop the spread of the virus but, we have little defense against the spread of grief. This is BIG and we are going to go through this TOGETHER, whether we like it or not.
Nobody knows how long this stage will last or how intense it will be. However, if we are truly on the path of grief (and hopefully healing) then we have a good idea of what’s coming next. It’s likely that we will want things to go back to normal and that we will begin to BARGAIN with reality, God, the government, or whatever else we think is in charge of this whole thing. Some things will go back to normal, some will be slow to come back, and some things will never be the same. Either way, the collective pressure and stress that we have experienced as a society will probably bring the largest mental health crisis that we have ever seen. It’s my guess that we will experience widespread DEPRESSION. Not everyone will have had the ability to handle this allostatic load and many people will struggle greatly in the aftermath.
Unlike the first 5 stages, the last stage is not a guarantee. The final stage is ACCEPTANCE. It’s up to us to determine if we get here and a big part of reaching this precipice is acknowledging where we have come from. We have to be ready and able to turn around and reach our hand out after we crawl out of the hole of grief. The world needs us now, more than ever. We may not be facing the total destruction but, we have a chance to greatly alter the direction of the planet and its inhabitants.
What’s probably more true is that we’ve always had great power. Maybe, it just took a global pandemic for us to finally wake up.