One of the most useful tools for dealing with the stress and anxiety of the covid-19 pandemic is Kubler-Ross’s five stages of death and dying. As you know, understanding denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, have been for a half-century a very helpful way of dealing with our biggest problems in living and dying.
Right now, the United States is suffering the worse increase in positive cases and in deaths, in the world. Here is my 5 stages analysis of the American reaction to the pandemic.
First of all, most Americans are still in denial of the seriousness of this most contagious, deadly disease. Beginning with the President of the U.S., most of us are in denial that we are personally in danger of dying from this disease. Even though up to today ( July 3) there have been 2, 679, 230 cases testing positive, and 127,024 deaths, we have about 330 million people. So 327 million people don’t think they are going to get infected. At least, most people don’t think they are going to die from the virus. That is called “DENIAL”. Now, as I say in the book, we could not live a day if we constantly thought, every single moment, that we might get killed, any moment. But we have been watching the numbers go up now for five months, and most of us are still in denial.
But the second stage is called “anger”. Anger is the first sign that we are no longer in denial. There are many angry persons like the rifle toting crusaders protesting the lockdown on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol, and the partiers crowding bars up close to each other conspicuously NOT masked. They never admit they are afraid of the virus, but their protesting their freedom to ignore social distancing is the first crack in their wall of denial.
The third stage is bargaining, and we have seen way too much of this. Bargaining is when we stop denying that this is a serious pandemic that could kill millions like the Spanish flu of my mother’s teenage years a hundred years ago. Bargaining is when we think that it isn’t as bad as the “fearmongers” say. It will only kill thousands, not the millions, no way the 50 millions of 1917-1918. Bargaining is what led to the reopening of many states long before the number of cases and deaths went down on a very steep curve.
The fourth stage is depression, and that is where most of us already are or soon will be. Depression comes when we stop denying the seriousness of the Pandemic, and stop shouting out our defiance like counter-dependent teenagers, and finally stop bargaining about how serious this virus is. Depression sets in much like a contagious disease, except that it is worse than viruses or bacteria. It can spread through radio, tv, computer, telephone, social platforms. We are social animals, intelligent animals, with huge brains that take in bad news emotionally, in our guts, heartfully, through the wires, and wirelessly. Since I started writing this two days ago, the confirmed cases and deaths have continued to go up , and are still rising. Today in the U.S. we now have 3.1 million confirmed cases, and 131,000 deaths. The deniers are still saying it’s not much worse than the annual flu. The angry are still protesting the threats to their freedom. The bargainers are still saying it’s nowhere near the 50 million Spanish flu deaths when 1/3 of the world got the virus. But many of us, maybe not the majority, probably not the plurality either, are becoming very depressed and anxious, and, frankly, scared as hell.
We are not in Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. This severe lock down, unlike any other in the history of civilization, has given us insight into a new stress syndrome. Because of our connections through the media, we are suffering from PRE TRAUMATIC STRESS SYNDROME. We are not suffering stress from what happened to us in the past. We are suffering stress from what we realistically fear is happening to us right now, and proceeding into the future. People are suffering from loneliness and isolation, akin to death-row inmates in solitary confinement. People are disturbed about the failure of their children to thrive in an educational shutdown that knows not where it is going. People are starting to spend their retirement in order to survive now. Finally, we are in dread of the climate disaster that is becoming irreversible. The planet itself is sick with a disease that could conceivably destroy all life.
The media, especially Television, are doing their best to entertain, distract, and inform us. But there is a wave of dread coming in that is drowning us, even in our dreams. This is stress, emotional stress, physical stress, mental stress, and we are suffering right now. We need A Spirituality For Any Pandemic that I promised in the subtitle of my book.
This is where the fifth stage, acceptance, comes in. When it comes to death, acceptance means translating death into life. When we accept our mortality, when we are at peace with the inevitable reality that death is an act of life, we want to live our death alive, and joyfully, as a natural part of human existence. So let it be with the Pandemic. Disease, and plagues, and epidemics, have always been a natural part of the human condition. We and our ancestors have always survived somehow. Spoiler’s alert! That’s why we humans are still on this planet. But we did not just survive. We have a human spirit that survives the most unspeakable of plagues, the most unimaginable carnage of wars, and the most catastrophic of natural disasters. We have inherited the hope with which our forebears survived all of those traumas. And that hope from the past seals in our spirit for the future that lies ahead of us. Whatever it may be.
Joy is the experience of ultimate reality as peace and love. Peace and love to you all.