Social distancing–hate it, love it, the reality means we grieve the loss of normalcy. A kind of “little death” that doesn’t rise to the level of true loss (until it does, when someone we know dies). Yet all the emotions seem familiar.
I suspect most readers are familiar with the Kubler-Ross stages of grief and mourning: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. They affect us when we lose a beloved family member, including our cats and dogs. These stages can happen in any order, at different rates of speed for each individual.
Social Distancing: Grief & Mourning the Loss of Normalcy
During this time of change, uncertainty, and worldwide upheaval, many of us also now experience a cascade of unexpected emotion. No, it’s not on the same scale as losing a special pet, or a beloved human family member. But I believe many of the emotional reactions we see occur as individuals work through grief and mourn the loss of the world we knew.
The Five Stages Of Social Distancing
“This can’t happen,” we argue. The gut-punch of shock, like a fist, leaves us numb. Disbelief and denial quickly follow. We study the reports, question the experts, looking for something that supports our greatest wish–that this all just GO AWAY!
Some decry overreactions or label news as fake. Conspiracy theories take the place of common sense. Denying reality helps push away or dull the fear, offering emotional protection from the prospect of overwhelming despair. Fear vanquishes common sense if you let it.
Because folks, I don’t know about you, but I’m scared. And struggling. So then Bravo tries to climb into my lap (all 125+ pounds of him), and Karma-Kat boxes his ears, and I have to laugh. And the fear subsides for long enough to take a breath and make sense of the senseless.
Normal frustration easily erupts in anger. Finger-pointing and the blame-game turn decent people into unrecognizable trolls. Those folks at high risk as well as those health care workers, grocery employees, truckers, and others on the front lines feel discounted or underappreciated.
Some nay-sayers allow fear to keep them stuck in the quagmire of denial. Confusion over accurate information, and losing control over our lives, create situations ripe for fear aggression—the worst kind in animal companions (and in humans!), that lashes out without thought for consequences.
Have patience. It’s normal to get angry. Shout, scream, vent. Cry. Hit a pillow.
Then…BREATHE. When this happens with me, Karma-Kat insists on lap snuggles. How’d he know that I needed that?
We rail against fate to bargain away the situation (“I’ll wash my hands, wear a mask, and stay six feet away if you don’t cancel my Las Vegas trip, church service, music festival, anniversary gathering, dog show, writer’s conference…). Social distancing demands we adhere to all recommendations. We can’t pick and choose.
So when that doesn’t work, we buy up talismans (TP anyone?) to protect us from the uncertain future. Because shitake happens.
The pain of loss hits hard once the initial shock goes away. Individuals have forever lost special Senior Year events. Students and working artists can’t perform after spending weeks and thousands of dollars creating and rehearsing. Dream jobs go away, life savings evaporate, vacation plans and professional events disappear like summer rain on hot Texas pavement. Layoffs, cut hours, canceled appointments turn income if-y. We second-guess what we shoulda-coulda-woulda done before chaos took over our life.
Social isolation can and will create loneliness. But we can make it a time to remember the past and reflect on the good times. Also, make it a time to reach out—virtually—to others who share these same feelings, to fight any feelings of depression, emptiness or despair. Use phones to text, Facetime, talk, and connect with each other. Schedule Skype meals to share virtually across the planet.
Adopt or foster a pet in need–the ongoing crisis could increase pet deaths if/when shelters must shut down. If you’re home now during the day, a foster cat or dog could save you both from depression.
Treasure your own pets and family. Connect to protect yourselves and each other.
Most of us aren’t here yet, but the last stage of grief brings us acceptance to deal with the long-term reality of this situation. It’s also a time to think about the future—finding practical financial and other solutions to the problems we’ll face both during this time of the pandemic, and in the changing world on the other side of isolation.
Ultimately, we can hope for a return to normalcy—maybe not exactly what we knew before, but a new normal. And, dare I pray, one that’s filled with unexpected blessings forged from the fire of our shared experiences.
Now, I’ve got to go count my furry blessings. Bravo-Dawg and Karma-Kat remind me every day of the joy in each moment. And so do you, dear readers. Connect to protect, and stay safe and well.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!