by Dr. Elissa Mendenhall, ND
Why this now? I’ve borne witness to so many people’s flavors of grief this last week. I’ve also seen people who are not grieving, and are confounded by what they’re seeing in their community. I hope this refresher in the stages of grief helps us to understand each other, and ourselves.
Guess what? People don’t grieve from number one to five. Forget neat and orderly when it comes to grief. People bounce around between stages. Sometimes people revisit one or two several times. Each stage takes its own course and time.
When people grieve, NOT being in the stage they’re in can feel intolerable. Being asked to take action when they are still in shock can feel like a betrayal. Talking about depression to someone who is in the denial stage might not go well, either. And being criticized for being angry, or being depressed and inactive, or optimistic, can feel infuriating. Even being around someone else’s different stage can feel like an affront. In essence, it’s best to just accept where you are, and where other people are, even if it is different or seem wrong.
Some of the thoughts and responses I’ve described here are normal, non-grieving, productive responses. And yet, sometimes, they are straight out of the grief.
Denial this can be combined with shock. I’ve seen it in the form of “Maybe we can change the electorate.” “Maybe there was election fraud again.” “Maybe the Russian hackers rigged it.” “It’s fine, we’ll just secede from the nation.” Or, some forms of optimism, like “Here’s the silver lining. This could be a real opportunity. Here’s why it’s not so bad.” “We agreed to this government, we should agree to its outcome.”
Bargaining “If I devote x amount of time to x cause, maybe we can still turn this around.” “If only I had campaigned that weekend.” “What if I had voted differently in the primary?” “What if I had really understood the WWC?” Guilt hangs out with bargaining.
Anger In the streets, on social media. Lots of places. I bet you recognize this when you see it. It can take the form of anger at the election itself, at the Democratic Party, at third parties, at Trump voters, at the campaign, at the future, at your former allies who have inexplicably started arguments with you on Facebook, etc.
Depression I see this in the form of despair. Thoughts about Hitler. WWII, apocalypse, and many other scary and worse-case scenarios. I see people crying. Obsessing on how bad it could get. I also see them doing numbing behaviors when the despair takes over and they shut down.
Acceptance Though more settled, it can feel difficult, too. Typically this is where people engage action, after they’ve accepted the current situation and assessed their place in it, and what they can do.
I can’t remember a time where I’ve been immersed in so much grief all around. (Maybe 911?) This time, so many have so much to grieve. Every grief is different and individual. Maybe one person’s grief is centered around the potential direct impact on a friend or family member, while another’s has to do with who or what Trump represents to them. Everyone who is grieving feels like something or someone they thought they knew, and trusted, or hoped for, is now dead. That feeling is very real, even if the death itself is a metaphor.
Grief is not static. One can never step in the same River Grief twice. It is guaranteed to change, transform, and eventually, resolve. Meanwhile, one of the most powerful acts we can engage in is to allow for our own, and others' grief. It's that grief that will transform us. In many ways, it already has.
Dr. Elissa Mendenhall, ND
Thanks you, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, for creating this useful model, which has so many more adaptations than you originally planned!