Denial is not an option

The famous author of On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, says there are five stages of grief that humans go through when a death or a drastic event happens in our lives.

The first stage is denial, where we point blank refuse to accept the reality in front of us. Denial is a safe, warm place where life goes on unchanged in our head. “It’s not true, I don’t believe it, this can’t be happening” are the catch cries of this stage.

COVID has thrown all of us into a state of grief – we’re grieving for our past lives, our ordinary day-to-day activities, both the mundane and the exciting, which all seem to be on hold or even destroyed.

It strikes me that a vast majority of people are stuck in this first phase, finding the world in front of them as bewildering and perplexing as if the Grim Reaper had suddenly arrived in front of them. It reminds me of the scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life when all the members of a dinner party are told they are dead after eating the salmon poisoned with botulism. They drive off to heaven in their Volvos, while one poor soul protests that he didn’t even eat the salmon.

Many of us are like that hapless chap, claiming our innocence and wanting things put right again. There are loud cries from many quarters to give us our freedom, to get us back to normality. But that is to live in denial. To ignore the scientific experts and to assume that life can be magically restored to its former self is foolhardy and dangerous.

In all of this, we must move to the last stage of grief – the acceptance stage where we come to terms with a new reality, one we don’t necessarily like but have little choice about. Mankind had little choice for centuries, whether they died of smallpox or the plague or countless other diseases that we have been fortunate to escape. Now we have our own nemesis, if you like, a challenge unlike any other, aside from war.

This is also where our personal responsibility comes to the fore. We need to adhere to health advice, to be good citizens and to stop whingeing.

We will all have to find our own level of acceptable risk, but one that doesn’t jeopardise the health of others. We will have to accept that this is the way life will be for a while at least.

Which stage of grief are you in? Are you stuck in denial?

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