David Kessler, an expert on grief described three ways people respond to a crisis. There are those who panic, unsure of what to do or how to cope; those who are moving along with guidance they have been given; and those who want others to calm down and get back to business as usual. Kessler uses the label of grief to explain the loss of control. The loss of how we used to live as well as anticipatory grief – the raw uncertainty of our family’s health and well-being.
Three groups of employees are described in Kessler’s HBR article, Helping Your Team Heal. The worried well, those who are fortunate not to have experienced sickness personally or near them. They may be grieving loss of normalcy and have anticipatory grief. Those who were sick and know others who are or were sick are the affected. The third group has lost a loved one, the bereaved.
Categories may help us recognize the needs of others. We must also recognize people will span a full spectrum of thinking and behavior. One thing is clear, companies cannot jump back to the same old routine or rush in to make up for lost revenue. Companies should recognize and support their grieving workforce. See my June 2019 blog, Death is Unfixable.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is known for establishing the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. These stages are not linear or timed. David Kessler worked with Elisabeth and noticed people stuck in grief were unable to find meaning. As a result, Kessler added a sixth stage; meaning. Meaning need not be profound. Meaning is not worth the loss. Nothing will make experiencing the pandemic or the loss of a loved one worth it. Meaning is what you find or make after the loss. Remembering joy and being grateful for that memory may bring meaning. It is personal. It takes time.
Viktor Frankl helped Auschwitz prisoners stay alive by examining meaning. For Frankl, meaning came from the transcendental power of love, purposeful work and the courage to face difficulty. Frankl, a professor of psychiatry and neurology created logotherapy. Logos is Greek for meaning. Logotherapy helps a person find meaning in life.
Though Kessler advises to not look at loss as a test because we will try to escape our feelings and we need to feel to find meaning. Frankl viewed suffering as an opportunity to improve oneself. Frankl felt his therapy educated the person to take responsibility. His therapy has its critics and is seldom a direct type of treatment today. However, finding meaning correlates with better mental health and is tied with resiliency.
According to Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” He believed when we can no longer change a situation, we must change ourselves.
Loss happens. We cannot go backward.