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When the Supreme Court released its decision on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health on June 24, many felt disbelief. How could a constitutional right supported by 61 percent of Americans suddenly get revoked? After 50 years of a constitutional right to decide when and whether to have a child and how many children we want, we suddenly found ourselves in a country where that right no longer exists. In the coming months, more than half of states will either ban outright or severally restrict abortion. After the initial shock wore off on Friday, grief followed.
We don’t only feel grief when someone we love dies. While it’s most often associated with the death of a person, we can also experience grief when our marriage or a friendship end, we’re diagnosed with a serious illness, or we lose our faith. And we can feel grief when we lose our freedom to make decisions about our bodies and our lives.
According to grief and trauma counselor Terri Daniel, “the state of national politics … can trigger a grief response” the same way a death can. “You may be feeling sad, angry, or powerless, or you’ve lost interest in activities that once made you happy. Maybe you’re experiencing changes in sleep or dietary habits, having bad dreams, or even physical symptoms. All of these can indicate a hidden grief,” she told Insider. “Grief is about loss, and that loss comes in many forms — death being just one of them,” grief recovery specialist Kristi Hugstad writes in HuffPost. “Regardless of the type of loss you’ve experienced, your grief is real,” and there are “myriad feelings that may be difficult or confusing for you” that you experience when you’re grieving.
The five stages of grief
You may already be familiar with the five stages of grief, also known as the Kübler-Ross model. You might have also been taught that these five stages happen in a precise order over a set period, but that’s not true. According to David Kessler, co-author of On Grief and Grieving with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, “the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one , then another, and back again to the first one.”
The stages of grief:
- Denial, You might feel disbelief, numbness, or mentally shut down at this stage. You might engage in mindless behaviors like cleaning your home or temporarily push the loss entirely out of your mind.
- Anger. Anger sets in once you recognize that your denial can’t last forever. You might feel resentful, frustrated, out of control, and even rage. You might lash out at those who cross your path, be it a loved one or stranger on social media, express pessimism or cynicism, act irritable and aggressive, and increase your alcohol or drug use.
- Bargaining, “After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce,” writes Kessler. “We become lost in a maze of ‘If only…’ or ‘What if…’ statements. We want life returned to what it was. We want to go back in time.” Bargaining often comes with feelings of guilt, shame, and insecurity. During this stage, we ruminate, worry, and try to predict the future and assume the worst. “We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss,” Kessler explains. “We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt.”
- Depression, When we’re in the depression stage of grief, we might sleep a lot, cry, have less interest in things we once enjoyed, and feel less motivated. Our appetite might change, and we might feel overwhelmed and sad. Despair, helplessness, or hopelessness are all normal emotions at this stage.
- Acceptance, Acceptance is perhaps the hardest of all the stages of grief because the idea that you could ever accept the loss seems impossible when you’re grieving. Kessler clarifies that “acceptance” doesn’t mean saying, “I’m OK with what happened” or “I’m over it.” “Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the loss,” he writes. “This stage is about accepting the reality” of what we’ve lost “and that this new reality is the permanent reality.” Of course, acceptance is more complicated when the loss is not necessarily permanent. According to Kessler, part of acceptance is learning “to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live.” But do we have to “learn to live” without reproductive rights to get past grief?
Turning one’s focus to the future
We can learn some things about acceptance from the Kübler-Ross model nonetheless. If we resist the acceptance stage, we’ll stay in grief forever. Instead, we must acknowledge that we, and the country, will never be the same again. “We cannot maintain the past intact,” Kessler says. “Finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones.”
When politics trigger a grief response, “acceptance” can mean accepting the current situation and turning your focus to how you can improve the future. The make-up of the Supreme Court, politicians in office, and laws can all change. Nothing that’s happening now must be permanent. It may take time, dedication, and hard work, but so long as we live in a democracy, we have the power to change who holds power over us and what influence they wield.