5 Stages of Grief and Loss Reimagined: COVID-19

By Scott Bragg

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) developed the five stages of grief as a model to describe the process that one goes through during a significant loss.  It was originally designed to address the loss one deals with through the death of a family member or friend.  However, the framework can be applied to other situations related to loss.  In particular, the timely crisis of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic appears to be no exception in terms of how it affects our lives.  

The five stages of grief can be remagined in the following ways:


Denial, while in the grief and loss process, allows us to slow down and act as if we have more security.  The object of this approach is to avoid feeling overwhelmed.  We, therefore, minimize the consequences that occur in a crisis while in the denial stage.  For instance, during the quarantine many of us tell ourselves “This cannot be as bad as the media is making it out to be” or “It won’t affect me and my family.”  We may also be shocked by the number of those affected by the coronavirus.


Anger is a part of the grieving process and can be shown in various ways.   It can play out as experiencing anxiety or worrying about one’s finances or other life circumstances that are affected.  At the same time, many of us may be frustrated with the strong possibility (or confirmed reality) of our child’s spring baseball or softball season being cancelled.  We may also become irritated with family members or roommates, which can lead to loss of patience. 


Depression is also a key stage during grief and loss. It can occur as a process by which overwhelming feelings take over, especially while working from home. We may also be managing other responsibilities, such as child care or caring for a sick parent. Feeling helpless due to the uncertainty during the pandemic is common. We are unsure of how long the stay at home order will last, ultimately, which likely leads to a fluctuation in mood. In addition, we may find solace in escaping from the stress; whether it be ten minutes of alone time or binging a Netflix show.


Reflection and questioning occur during the bargaining phase in the stages of grief.  At this point in the game, many of us are asking “What if?”  We try to negotiate scenarios in our mind that serves as another way to avoid the grief and loss.  For example, we might pray or have wishes that the pandemic stops if we change our behaviors.  One could say “When this is over, I will not take anything or anyone for granted (or avoid unhealthy behaviors, like excessive alcohol use)”.  There can also be feelings of guilt in this stage disguised as “if only” thoughts.  “If only I had spent more time with my parents before this all happened” or “If only I had appreciated life more when I could be out in public with others” are basic examples.  


The stage of acceptance perhaps involves the most direct and real dealings of an issue.  It does not mean that we approve of or like what is going on, instead we acknowledge what is happening.  So, during the pandemic we will hopefully (or have at times) come to terms that around one million people in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19.  Furthermore, by accepting, we deal with the ways in which the quarantine affects our jobs and/or social lives.  We also choose to acknowledge that we may have to “wait” this out at home a little bit longer to reduce the chances of the virus coming back in a second wave. 

To conclude this blog, please know that all will experience these stages differently.   These five stages are not linear.  The process does not occur in the same order for each person and can fluctuate throughout time.  The collective inconveniences, stress, tension, irritability, and other emotions during this time will likely not be forgotten.  I believe that we can use our resilience and compassion to get through this.  However, we will need to lean on those that care about us (while following COVID-19 restrictions).  It is also important to seek out support from a professional, such as a therapist/counselor, psychiatrist, etc., as needed (while following the advice from medical experts regarding COVID-19).  Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness, especially given how tough this ordeal has been.   Thanks to our medical and mental health professionals, help is available.

Scott Bragg is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Addictions Counselor (CAADC) in Pennsylvania.

The information in this blog does is not a replacement for mental health treatment.