Has Grief Led You to Apathy?

Has Grief Led You to Apathy?

Apathy can also be a sign that the process of grief has not run its course.Grief is about coping with loss. Gerald Sittser, an insightful guide on these issues, writes, “Loss creates a barren present, as if one were sailing on a vast sea of nothingness. Those who suffer loss live suspended between a past for which they long and a future for which they hope.”8 Like doubt, grief has the tendency to keep one suspended between two worlds and disengaged from the present. 

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.” In it, the author recounts a virtual meeting with fellow editors. As colleagues shared how they were feeling amid the pandemic, one used the surprising word grief to describe her feelings, prompting others (in their little videoconferencing boxes) to nod in approval. The shared, familiar feeling of blah was grief.

The article goes on in the form of an interview with David Kessler, an expert on grief. The interviewer asks, “Is it right to call some of what we’re feeling grief?” Kessler responds, “Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. . . . The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.” Kessler goes on to speak about what he calls “anticipatory grief,” which is tied to fear of the future, a dread of the unknown, and a perceived loss of safety.1 Loss, fear, change, unpredictability—these are the sources of pandemic-induced grief.

Yet, we know these feelings are not unique to times of pandemic. Grief is a normal part of life because loss is normal. In the 1960s, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed the notion that people suffering loss often pass through five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (the model has continually been refined and now contains a sixth stage—meaning). Denial has to do with going numb due to the shock of the loss. Anger is directed—rationally or irrationally—at anyone or anything involved in allowing the loss to occur. Bargaining has to do with “if only” statements and our desire to turn back the clock on our tragedy. Depression often accompanies grief, taking the form of deep sadness, emptiness, and a loss of purpose and motivation for living. Finally, acceptance is just that—accepting a new normal after the loss.

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