Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) has been applied to this strange new world of pandemic. Do an internet search with her name and “pandemic” or “coronavirus,” and you’ll see what I mean.
It is important to understand that we are in fact grieving. I think I can relate to all of the stages, some more so than others. It hits me in so many ways. It seems so irrational. We’re not even supposed to shake hands!
We’re familiar, of course, with the refusal to wear protective masks, do physical distancing, sanitize stuff, and so on. Again, I won’t claim to be immune to those impulses. It seems so irrational!
We’re also familiar with the ways anger is played out. For example, when asked to put on a mask while entering a store, many people simply walk by, berate the unfortunate employee making the request, and some even resort to violence. People have even been killed.
As with so many seemingly random aspects of our society, wearing a mask has become politicized. I’m a fan of the NHL team Nashville Predators. Do I wear a MAGA hat, or am I feeling the Bern? (On a side note, another aspect of grief—one I share with millions of people around the world—is wondering if I will ever again be able to share an arena with thousands of cheering fans.)
The root of anger is fear. Too often, we don’t recognize how our fear expresses itself, whether we’re boiling over or just simmering. (On a foolish side note, I remember the SNL skit with Cheri Oteri, “Simmer down now.”)
Perhaps we can relate to the prophet Jeremiah who wailed, who demanded of God: “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail” (15:18). We might hurl invectives at the Almighty! Would it surprise you to learn that God can never be the recipient of misplaced anger? The Lord can take it all. Hit me with your best shot.
Recognizing that we are in fact grieving helps in entering a healthy process. Maybe it’s not as irrational as it might seem.