In psychology there’s what’s known as the five stages of grief. They are the agreed upon steps that anyone who has experienced loss walks through.
It begins with denial, then isolation, moves to anger and then depression, then bargaining and eventually acceptance. We are a culture of do-er’s and checklist makers and accomplishers, which means it only makes sense that when we look at these stages of grief, we think we make our way through the steps, one by one and then, we are done.
But anyone who has walked through grief will tell you it isn’t a straight line. It isn’t something with a finish to aim for, or a box to check. It isn’t a tunnel we go through only to emerge and never enter it again. Grief, like all of life, is a series of steps forward and backwards, of cycling around and around and around again. Sometimes you have accepted it, and others you are back to bargaining. There are good days and hard days, hopeful days and deeply dark days.
About a week ago now, I wrote a sort of poem (included below) about the seven stages of our new reality amid self-quarantining, social distancing, and a world-wide health pandemic. Looking back on what I wrote, it seems like maybe our “coming to terms” with the current state of things is a lot like the stages of grief. That maybe on some days we feel motivated and other days we go back to feeling scared. On some days we feel at peace, and on others we cycle back around to being sad.
Now, about two weeks into this new normal and I understand this experience too, like grief, is not linear.
Which is okay.
Instead of being hard on myself for returning to a sort of sadness over things lost and changed, or being confident that this feeling of grounded-ness will stick around because I had a “good” day, I am learning to name what today feels like, and know it isn’t final. None of it is. And that’s okay too.
Maybe you will find yourself in the descriptions below. Or maybe the name of your stages looks different. Whatever the case, my hope is, in the coming days or weeks or however long this takes, we become more aware of who we are, where we are, of naming our experiences, and believing that the experience of good is possible however strange this time may be.
On the first day, there were runs on grocery stores and a clearing of shelves and an absence of milk and meat and a fear that we might not have enough. There was an undercurrent of panic. And a shift to a new normal that jolted us out of complacency.
There was evening and there was morning. The first day.
And it was scary.
On the second day there was worry. What if? What might happen? How will we be when this is over? Will it be over? There were endless questions and few answers. There was a clamoring for stability. A knot in our collective gut. An undoing of life as we knew it.
There was evening and there was morning. The second day.
And it was troubling.
On the third day there was grief. Plans upended. Concerts and weddings and parties postponed. Vacations scrapped. Expectations of a foreseeable future playing out like we imagined, dashed. Hope for what we thought life would be back before this was a reality, appearing foolish, naïve, distant.
There was evening and there was morning. The third day.
And it was sad.
On the fourth day there was boredom. An excess of time and a lengthening of days and nowhere to go, and no one we could see, and a sense that the walls were closing in. The space we lived in felt small. The restlessness palpable. The time endless. What day was it? What would make today any different from the day before?
There was evening and there was morning. The fourth day.
And it was maddening.
On the fifth day there was action. All the could have’s and would have’s and should have’s became can be. Hobbies created, skills honed, books read, imaginations unbound, opportunities made and taken. Wonder and possibility and a new kind of “what if?” What might we become? What might we discover?
There was evening and there was morning. The fifth day.
And it was productive.
On the sixth day there was camaraderie. Worry for self, became worry for others. How can we help? The most vulnerable and the most bored. The worried and the lonely. The elderly in nursing homes and the parents of young kids. We are in this together, though distanced from one another. Connected, though apart. Unified, though isolated.
There was evening and there was morning. The sixth day.
And it was empowering.
On the seventh day, finally, there was rest.
Not forced. Not fought. Not resisted. Invited. Space to be. Time to be. Nothing to do but, be.
Alone with ourselves. At first scared. Then curious. Then, at ease. There we are.
There was evening and there was morning. The seventh day.
And it was good.