Current Events in Education

The 5 Stages of Grief Pandemic Style

This morning I attended a virtual conference on Teacher Self Care presented by the Educator’s Room.  First of all, this was so nice to be connected with like-minded people and not feel isolated for a change.  During one session presented by Caitlin Mehra on emotions.  It was here I had my own “Aha” moment regarding grief.  Unfortunately, I know all too well the various stages of grief due to many unfortunate losses in my life.  A few years ago, I realized you can also go through these stages when your adult child suffers through a divorce.  It really affected the whole family to a degree because we all experienced a loss.  During Catlin’s presentation, I also had the idea that in reality, we could also experience the grief cycle during the age of a pandemic.  
Now, this is how I believe it could apply.  Please know upfront, I am not a trained counselor or anything like this.  This is only my observation or connection I’ve made in my life regarding this weird time we are in.  Grief comes from a deep and painful loss of some kind.  Caitlin mentioned some other areas – loss of a dream, hope, relationships, job that occurred in an unexpected way.  This pandemic certainly hits this as it has stolen my hope, dreams, relationships, and my job.   
Denial – When I’ve first experienced a loss, I do tend to deny it’s really happened.  Here in Texas, when we were first instructed to wear masks, social distance, and lockdown, I really thought I lived in an episode of The Twilight Zone.  Then the COVID-19 numbers began to rise in our area forcing schools to lockdown and move to remote learning.  You’d think this would be when it became real for me.  No – when this virus stole my time with family did it hit home.  During Spring Break, my husband and I had planned a trip to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary and a side trip to visit some of our children in Dallas.  This realization thrust me into the next stage rather quickly.
Anger – Having my life disrupted really pissed me off, and I am a naturally calm person.  My anger raises its head the most when I visited the grocery store and notice people NOT WEARING THEIR MASK.  It took all my willpower not to confront people because in my head I kept thinking “it’s because of YOU I cannot see my family!”  “YOU are putting our city at risk!!”  I now realize they may be stuck in the Denial stage because let’s face it – wearing masks has become a huge political issue instead of a necessary health issue.  
Bargaining – when you try to beg or strike a bargain with a higher power to change a situation.  Personally, I have been praying for this time to go away, but I am not really making If/Then statements.  However, I am seeing a form of bargaining by people breaking the rules set forth by our governor and scientist.  It is a form of defiance really of not following any of the guidelines. The only other way I have seen bargaining has been in the decisions made by our state regarding reopening meaning if we follow the mandates, then we can slowly reopen.  Ya – I live where people totally ignore these and do what they want. Now there are a few restaurants not opening, or only offer delivery or curbside delivery in an effort to keep employees and patrons safe.  
Depression – this one I’ve really struggled with after realizing so many things have changed in my life.  Pre-CoVID, my husband and I enjoyed our Saturday lunch date at our favorite local burger joint.  We have not been there since March.  They were closed a fair amount of time, but now they are open we are still not comfortable eating out.  Another casualty of the pandemic for me was my teaching career.  I did not feel comfortable returning to the classroom where I’d have to fight with students to wear their masks in a packed classroom that would not be socially distanced.  So I resigned. Prior to this, I had started planning out days until I could retire, which amounted to about 5 more years.  Never in a million years did I expect this to happen.  Yet, this is how we react to unexpected death.   I went through all the stages of grief with this decision all within a 24 hour period, yet there are still times I am really angry this had to be my choice. 
I could not get out of bed, or if I did, I would remain in my PJ’s the better part of the day and slowly began sorting through the many boxes I brought home after packing up my classroom. So many emotions surged through me during this time.   As I said earlier, I am very familiar with the five stages of grief, so I knew I could not stay stuck in the more difficult stages.  My late sister-in-law used to tell me when you go through a valley, don’t pitch a tent there because you need to keep on going towards the mountain.  It is comfortable to stay in one place because it’s hard to continue the journey.  In losing a loved one, you might worry that moving past the pain will erase their memory.  I have never had any of my loved ones vanish because they are always in my heart.   In the case of dealing with pandemic grief, moving past our pain will help build our resilience and strength for the challenges to come.  According to Dr. Fauci, we have a long way to go too.  Which leads me to the final stage.
Acceptance —God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.  We know this as the Serenity Prayer.  I should memorize this because there so many things right now I cannot change.  I cannot change how people respond to this crisis or change their opinion or ignorance.  All I can do is change me. However, I cannot control what my face says.  Thankfully all they see are my eyes which we all know the proverbial teacher look speaks volumes anyway.  All I can do is do what I can to keep my loved ones safe.  As a teacher, I have on occasion suffered from the Wonder Woman syndrome of believing I can save everyone.  I realize this is not true and is a recipe for burnout.   I did not like reading Dr. Fauci’s thoughts on when this pandemic may end to a degree next year. It almost made me angry all over again because I know why it will take longer.  The image of the cashier yesterday at Braum’s wearing her mask below her chin rush to my memory.  Yet I have to keep reminding myself to have the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.  I can acknowledge the grief I feel, but not let it destroy me.  If I let it destroy me, then it wins.

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