At the beginning of lockdown, a lawyer friend and sidekick of mine called. She helps many industries with compliance, so she has been busy during this time, trying to figure out what is allowed and what not and advising businesses how to prepare for the future. But that particular evening she sighed: “It is terrible. We are grieving the loss of so many things, but my one client (people who work in the tourism industry) just don’t want to move to the next stage of grief. And I have to find a way to get them there. Because they are stuck in denial, and we need to be at acceptance to be able to make plans.”
This idea of the stage of grief fascinated me, prompting me to go and revisit the stages. “Denial, anger, bargaining, despair, acceptance”.
It resonated with a lot of the feels I was feeling, although I was not sure where I would place myself in that process, but also knowing that the process is not linear.
A few weeks later, we had a teams chat, and we ponder over the fact that the lockdown came with a rollercoaster of emotions, and that one must just ride it out. “My grief process is a figure 8,” she said. “Yes,“ I replied ”and I have stopped asking people how they are, accepting that most of us are some version of ok. So, ok-ish”.
I also wondered what it means to be a responsible lawyer during this time. A responsible citizen. Where the balance lies between vigilance, co-operation and support, mindful that I might be quarantined in some other stage of grief.
I will probably not be in denial. Having watched this all unfold in other parts of the world, I was under no illusion of the devastation on its way. However, perhaps as an age-old survival mechanism, I tell myself that I will be fine.
Like many of us, I sat and watched this Tsunami wave coming, knowing that there is nothing that can be done to stop the Covid-wave from spilling over the country. And I think it is the uncertainty of knowing whether you or your loved ones, will be fine, that is the most significant side-effect of this virus.
The anger I have had. I remember the day of 2 April 2020 specifically, where I paced up and down in the study, angry at some of the lack of communication and the secrecy from government. Knowing things have always been my coping mechanism, the way I regulate myself.
But anger also manifests differently. A refusal to follow the rules, power struggles, blame, or any of the other ways to externalise the feels inside.
Once we have accepted that it is here, to some extent, we often start to bargain. Unlike denial, we recognise the uncomfortable feelings to a limited extent but now want a soft exit. We still want to control, to some extent. “Maybe if I wash my hands I can visit close relatives”.
And then, when all else fails, the total despair. The idea that life as we know it changed. The feeling of being forever broke, without a future, and even the fear of dying. Seeing things crumble before your eyes – trips, parties, reunions.
But, the place we want to end up at is acceptance. Accepting that there are very limited things we can control in this pandemic. What we can do is stay at home as much as possible, wash our hands, keep the distance. Work from home if we can make use of the time to connect with children, to see how they learn. Knowing that things will change in the world as we once knew it, but asking how we can make sure that the change is for the better. Accepting that for some time asking “how are you” will be a loaded question, and that answering “ok-ish” is a totally acceptable answer.
And maybe being a responsible lawyer means adhering to serenity prayer. To have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to tell the difference.