Common Grief Reactions: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance

Apr 26, 2021 | 0 comments

Can grief be a good thing? Recently, I participated in the Toastmasters International Speech Competition. The title of my speech: “Good Grief!”

With all of the losses we all have incurred during the pandemic, we may not recognize we are grieving – a lot. Using Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ model of the Five Stages of Grief, I talk about how to recognize grief. The key is that we need to allow ourselves to feel what many consider “negative” emotions.

Here’s the speech, followed by the text. I hope it helps you understand and feel better about all the challenges we are facing.

Good Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance

Good Grief! Speech Text

What words describe 2020 for you? Closed. Cancelled. Isolated. “You’re muted.”

Remember when we used to get dressed up to go out? Good times. Are you wearing pajamas right now? How about slippers?

Fellow Toastmasters, if you didn’t have a loved one get sick or die, you may not recognize our society is grieving enormous losses.

You may have heard of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and The Five Stages of Grief. It’s been part of popular culture for decades. Early in her career, she interviewed dying patients to find out how they felt about their impending deaths.

She found their reactions fell into five categories: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These reactions may not happen in any specific order. Not everyone experiences all of these reactions.

But Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance are common grief reactions to almost any kind of loss. For example, have you ever lost your keys?

My husband Dave and I were in Austin, Texas pre-pandemic for a bar mitzvah. My parents, who can’t drive anymore, needed a chauffeur for the event. We rented an SUV to drive my folks around.

On Sunday, we dropped my parents off at the airport. We stayed an additional day to visit downtown Austin’s fun funky shops. We planned meet a friend outside of town the next day. Back at the hotel, we walked over to the next-door shopping mall for lunch.

We had plans to go out to dinner with some of my cousins that evening. But, when it came time to find the key for the rental car, it had disappeared.

Denial. How could this car key be missing? I know I put it in my purse.

Dump everything out of the purse. Look in the backpack, look in all the pockets of my jackets, look in the suitcases, we looked everywhere in that hotel room – nothing. How can this key be missing?

Anger. I call up the car rental company to tell them the key is lost. “It will cost $250 to replace the key and you must pay for the tow company to return the vehicle to the airport.”

I’m angry, because my plans to drive out to the Texas countryside the next day are shot. I’m supposed to pick up a friend’s cremated remains and take them back to New Mexico to scatter. And now, I can’t fulfill that commitment.

Bargaining. I don’t usually pray to a higher power to help find a car key, but I was desperate. I said to my guardian angel, “Oh great universal spirit, please, please help me find this missing key. I will thank you forever.”

Didn’t help. Depression.

Instead of going out for Chinese food with my cousins, Dave and I walked to a nearby grocery store. I bought a bottle of wine, cheese and crackers, nuts … and dark chocolate. Dinner was not a Happy Meal.

Finally, I said, “Oh well. We’ll just pay the 250 dollars and the bill for the tow. We’ll have Pete’s ashes mailed to Albuquerque.” That is Acceptance.

I washed my face, brushed my teeth and got into my jammies. As I slid under the covers, I felt something move. Plink, the key fell on the floor. Hallelujah! Did I hear the rustling of angel wings? (thank you, thank you!)

Losing a key is nothing compared to losing a loved one. The dead don’t miraculously return … usually. And even after this incredibly tough year, you are not dead.

What words describe your life now? Anxious? Exhausted? Overwhelmed? Overweight? I know about pandemic poundage. Took me three months to drop eight pounds. But I did it!

Loss is endemic during this pandemic. Hoarding toilet paper doesn’t help. But feeling our feelings does.

Are you angry or depressed? Are you muting yourself, denying your grief? Emotions are meant to be expressed. When suppressed, they fester. Scientific studies show when we express our emotions, even the so-called “negative” emotions, we feel happier.

Recognize we are all grieving losses in many different ways. Healthy grief is good. Be present. Listen, understand, and share.

Are you muted? Unmute yourself.

About Gail Rubin

Gail Rubin rehearses Good Grief!

Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist (death and grief educator)

Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®, is a pioneering death and grief educator. A speaker who uses humor and film clips to get end-of-life conversations started, she’s the author of the award-winning books A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, Kicking the Bucket List: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die (Rio Grande Books), and Hail and Farewell: Cremation Ceremonies, Templates and Tips. She is also the coordinator of the award-winning Before I Die New Mexico Festival, which won the ICCFA’s KIP Award for Best Event in 2018.

A doyenne is a woman who’s considered senior in a group who knows a lot about a particular subject. The “CT” after Gail’s name means Certified Thanatologist. Thanatology is the study of death, dying and bereavement. A fellow CT dubbed Gail “The Joan Jett of Death Education.” Her TEDx talk, A Good Goodbye, focuses on the importance of starting end-of-life conversations before there’s a death in the family. Albuquerque Business First named her one of their Women of Influence in 2019.

A Good Goodbye