Make It Easy


Sunday, September 16, 2001

Dealing with collective grief

Understanding the mechanics of the grief process leads to a healthier state of being, both individually and corporately.

What is an apocalyptic event to Americans is an everyday occurrence, albeit usually on a smaller scale, in Bosnia, Ireland and the Middle East. We have been dragged into the community of fear and collectively we are reeling. Most spent this past week in numb silence, trying to comprehend the magnitude of the events on Sept. 11.

Almost in unison, the people of America are experiencing the five stages of grief identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her groundbreaking 1969 study of terminally ill patients, "On Death and Dying."

According to Kubler-Ross, we react to death and separation in five stages:

>> Denial and Isolation

>> Anger

>> Bargaining

>> Depression

>> Acceptance

The first stage allows us to adjust to the new situation. Kubler-Ross says, "Denial functions as a buffer after unexpected shocking news, allows the [person] to collect himself and mobilize other less radical defenses."

Anger comes when it dawns on us that this event did, in fact, take place. We feel out of control and fearful. Anger can be useful as a motivator to action. Unfortunately it is often displaced and randomly projected onto anything that increases our sense of helplessness. Unfocused, irrational anger creates massive and dangerous unintended consequences.

We begin the Bargaining stage when we wish vainly that if we just pray enough or fly our flag it will all go away. Like children, we hope that if we are good enough the dead will return and the evil will magically disappear. Please understand, prayer and symbolic acts are valuable ways to bring a community together. However, if we are taking actions wishing for an instant miracle, we quickly find ourselves in the fourth stage: Depression.

The recent disaster not only depresses us because of the horrific loss of lives, but also because we have lost control and have no idea how it will affect our future. Fear is a powerful emotion that cannot be ignored: We must squarely face our fears and find the root cause.

We begin to take proper actions and move toward healing only when we are willing to look deeply at the demons both "out there" and in the depths of our own hearts. Ask, "What is it I fear?" and "What is it they fear?" With understanding we can work through depression and move towards the last stage: Acceptance.

I am not advocating we accept terrorism. Acceptance here means accepting that something has happened and we need to answer the question, "Now What?" Acceptance allows us to make sense of the new order of things and find appropriate actions that will take us to our highest and best place -- corporately and individually.

Remember, we will all move through these stages at a different pace. Recovery over the next weeks and months will require compassion, understanding and patience. Give these to yourself, your to coworkers and to everyone around you.

Beth Terry is president of Pacific Rim Seminars.
This column is excerpted from her upcoming book,
101 Ways to Make Your Life Easier. Send questions
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