When I was in high school there was a buzz about why students needed to take a class on death and dying. Honestly the one thing I remember learning in this class has served me well in so many situations. It is the 5 stages of grief by Elizabeth Kubler Ross. While these stages appear linear, I think that individuals process grief very differently.
My life has also taught me that grief is for more than the death of a loved one. Grief surfaces over any kind of loss--such as the death of a dream, loss of love, loss of a friend. Grief is a word that describes the feelings associated with any kind of loss in life.
The first stage is denial: In denial that first thought is, "this can't be happening to me," or "nothing is wrong," "I am fine." It is a defense against the initial pain one feels at loss.
The second stage is anger, "why me", "whose to blame." At times, those of us who are in grief direct our anger outward toward others, those in authority or even the ambigous "they."
The third stage is bargaining: "just let me live to see my kids graduate." or "I will give my life savings if..." This involves the hope that one can somehow delay the pending death.
The forth stage is depression: "I am so sad," or "why bother with anything," or "what's the point." During this stage one begins to understand the certainty of death. It appears for some in silence, crying, saddness, the desire to be alone. This stage allows an individual to disconnect from the attachment to life or whatever is being lost. It is an important stage to move through in terms of surrender.
The final stage of grief is acceptance. "It's going to be Okay." "I can't fight it, I might as well prepare for it." In this stage one comes to terms with the loss of life or whatever loss one is facing.
Recently, I have been thinking about these 5 stages in relation to faith communities, especially those communities that are at-risk, in decline or are in a process to end their ministry. I think individuals within such communities begin their grief at various stages. At the prospect of closing the doors of a church, some begin at bargaining... "well maybe if we tried this new program or tried some new approach....we will survive." Others exhibit anger toward leaders or a certain person or a leader or person is demonized as the evil one who "DID THIS." Denial is also strong for others... facing the loss is just too hard and it is easier to simply pretend that nothing is really wrong.
It's sad but I think one of the most difficult stages for the Church community to process is the depression stage. It's is such an important stage because it prepares a person for acceptance. What I notice is that this stage is uncomfortable for others to watch... there are attempts to cheer the person up or try to fix their feelings or make them go away. Sometimes persons are condemned for having the sad feelings. If those feelings lead to acceptance, then this is a very important stage and if it is skipped, perhaps acceptance is delayed.
Anger too is a hard one for faith communities to process. Anger can bring so much hurt and can be so explosive and it can do so much damage. It is easier to move back into denial than face the raging feelings inside.