Here we are at the end of another week of sheltering at home. I think the news this week of schools continuing to be shut down until May 1st in Illinois was a big hit of reality for all of us to take in and digest. I can definitely say I was holding out hope that the numbers would not surge, they would plateau or possibly go down, and the schools would reopen in April sometime. Well, denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. I definitely was swimming in it though.
Reading the news from the school district, accepting the extension of social distancing until April 30th, and now hearing the national recommendation to wear a mouth and nose cover when going outside are all difficult to handle. Both a friend and my sister read and shared with me that what we are all going through is a grieving process. This is absolutely true.
What I think though is that most of us do not recognize it. We don’t look at the losses of our regular existence for what they are. They are losses we need to process. They are losses of physical freedoms and daily routines. Grieving these losses takes recognition. I have needed a few hours to digest some of these announcements and to recognize what is happening. Looking back, I realize now, my initial reactions are that of shock, denial, upset, frustration, and sometimes panic.
When we think of grieving, the stages of grief are a natural thought to refer to. However, the original grieving process that we think of in the aftermath of the death of a loved one was not created based on others dealing with the death of a loved one. The medical doctor and scientist, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross[i], who created the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) was studying patients at the University of Chicago who were processing their own diagnosis of a terminal diagnosis. Her analysis and belief that death should be treated in a better way by doctors and hospitals revolutionized the practice of medicine in America. The stages have created a touchstone for anyone now dealing with grief.
It’s interesting that the stages of grief can be extrapolated and applied to more feelings of loss, however. Here, we can apply the stages of grief to the pandemic to try to better deal with all the feelings we are all faced with on a daily basis as we take in and process more news of deaths from COVID-19, physical barriers, and social restrictions. This is another tool to maintain well-being while sheltering at home.
Some adults may be full-time working at home, some may be part-time on a reduced time schedule while also home-schooling children, and others may have had to give up careers for the time-being due to the slow-down in the economy, illness, or loss of child care. Whatever the reason, there have been big changes to life as we know it. Recognizing that we all need to accept these changes can be difficult in and of itself. Processing our feelings is another level of cognition. And adapting to the changes is another to maintain well-being.
When applying the stages of grief to a change like this, one needs to know that the stages of grief are not linear. I never knew this before my mother died July 15, 2019. Only after her death, did I ever take the time to research the stages and participate in group grief counseling where we were taught by the social worker who led the group that the stages of grief are more circular in nature. The process, in my opinion, is a flow from one stage to another for periods of time fluctuating in depth and time spent at the various stages.
One of the greatest actions I think any of us can take during this time of change is the act of surrender. This may not be part of the original stages of grief, but I think of it as in addition to them. At times, during these past few weeks, I have thought about the fact that my level of stress reduces after I surrender to the moment. When I fight against what is happening, my stress increases. When I can take a deep breath, recognize the stress, and surrender to the fact that I am trapped to a degree, I feel better. I can accept the restrictions and move through them. For example, at times while I am home schooling my children, I have thought of the time I was able to spend completely focused on my writing. It initially frustrated me that I cannot research, write, revise, or do anything else professionally for long durations. But now that I have surrendered myself to this moment in time, to teaching my children, to creating a home where my children, my husband, and I feel comfort, security, and love amidst this outer world of death, fear, and stress, I am more peace-filled. Peace is the goal of grief processing I believe. Whether we are talking about grieving the death of a loved one or grieving the loss of a job, a sense of physical freedom, or the loss of hugging our friends, when we come to a feeling of peace about any of those losses, we have achieved something. We have satisfied an inner need for peace.
One can analyze where this achievement lands on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs[ii], whether it is self-actualization, esteem, or another level. To find that kind of peace from surrendering brings such balance and calm to life, especially during these haphazard times we are having today. The level of unpredictability that we all have to navigate is mind-blowing.
At this time, we are all moving through Maslow’s hierarchy more frequently I would say due to the amount of changes occurring. It is good to recognize this too. Not only are we grieving and going through the stages of grief, but also we are fluctuating on meeting our own needs within the pyramid of needs. How do we meet these basic needs of security, food, shelter, interpersonal relationships now? How do we attempt to continue to strive for self-actualization which is like striving for overall well-being?
In order to know, here are some interesting descriptions of what Maslow’s self-actualization looks like in a person and a mechanical how-to list to consider and try:
Characteristics of self-actualizers:
1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty;
2. Accept themselves and others for what they are;
3. Spontaneous in thought and action;
4. Problem-centered (not self-centered);
5. Unusual sense of humor;
6. Able to look at life objectively;
7. Highly creative;
8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional;
9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity;
10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience;
11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;
12. Peak experiences;
13. Need for privacy;
14. Democratic attitudes;
15. Strong moral/ethical standards.
Behaviour leading to self-actualization:
(a) Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration;
(b) Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths;
(c) Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority or the majority;
(d) Avoiding pretense (‘game playing’) and being honest;
(e) Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority;
(f) Taking responsibility and working hard;
(g) Trying to identify your defenses and having the courage to give them up.
I hope that by continuing to build on whatever coping techniques we all have for grieving, attempting to surrender to the feelings we have, and trying to work on some of these recommended behaviors that we will all be able to have well-being while continuing through this pandemic.
© 2020 Megan Davia Mikhail
[i] Newman, Laura. “Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.” Dated September 11, 2004. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC516672/