5 Stages of Grief: How We Responded to COVID

An expert on the popular "5 stages of grief" model applied the five stages to responses to the COVID-19 virus, saying, "it's not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world."

David Kessler, a death and grieving expert who co-authored a book about the five stages of grief theory, described the 2020 COVID grief as:

  1. Denial, which we saw a lot of early on: This virus won't affect us.

  2. Anger: You're making me stay home and taking away my activities.

  3. Bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right?

  4. Sadness: I don't know when this will end.

  5. Acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

And Kessler wrote, "acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually."


The five stages of grief model (or the Kübler-Ross model) postulates that those experiencing grief go through a series of five emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance:

  • Denial is a conscious or unconscious decision to refuse to admit that something is true.

  • Anger is an emotional or physical act in which people attempt to place blame.

  • Bargaining is a negotiative process in which people attempt to postpone or distance themselves from the reality of a situation.

  • Depression is the feeling of loss of control or hopelessness with a situation.

  • Acceptance is a feeling of stability or resignation as people become an active participant in their life.

The creator of this model, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, originally developed these stages to describe the process patients with terminal illness go through as they come to terms with their own deaths.


Later, in a book co-authored with David Kessler, Kübler-Ross expanded her model to include any form of personal loss, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or income, major rejection, the end of a relationship or divorce, drug addiction, incarceration, the onset of a disease or an infertility diagnosis, and even minor losses, such as a loss of insurance coverage.

Sources consulted:

Wikipedia.

Spiess, Kerianne E., et al. "Application of the Five Stages of Grief to Diabetic Limb Loss and Amputation." The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery, vol. 53, no. 6, 2014, pp. 735-739.

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