The Five Stages of Survival Grief, by Dr. Bob

(In writing this submission after quite a long hiatus, I am hoping to bring awareness to the issue and help people be better prepared. After having to go through this cycle of grief myself in regards to the State and their overreach in professional licensing and control of physicians, I have reached acceptance and have emerged willing to try once again to help others. Acceptance of the fact that ANY one of us can be hauled off by the State now for “infractions” is a tough thing, but as Doc’s wife says often: “It is only through faith in God that the State can’t control people, which is why they try so hard to eliminate faith”. While all of us, Christians, would indeed agree that this is true, it is a tough thing to have faith that you don’t need a paycheck!)

The five stages of grief have long been defined and established by medical and psychology circles. Since the late 1960’s, the Kubler-Ross cycle of grief has been defined as having five separate stages, with no set timeline for movement through those stages. One person can progress within moments to acceptance, while others can get mired in denial for their entire lives. These stages will be familiar to you and are as follows:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

In regard to these stages and survival issues in a collapse, there are three populations of people to address. The first is the masses– those who will not, and often cannot, cope with the idea that a collapse is even possible. There are plenty of debates about what will happen to this group of folks, but surely the outcome is not good for them. If they do face a collapse, surely many will be stuck even before denial in the “shock” stage, which often leads to indecision, inability, and apathy to the situation. Surely these folks are venerable to State control, dependence, and early death in violent situations. They may get to denial and then progress very quickly to anger at “the government” that they see as responsible for “letting this happen”. As many preppers are very aware, these folks usually have less than three days worth of food and provisions available in any type of disaster. After denial and anger, they nearly must progress to bargaining within a few days to avoid dehydration and starvation. They are likely, in the bargaining stage, to willingly give up any and all prior rights in order to eat or even be provided with water. They may be willing to be State soldiers if necessary for their meals or their family’s meals. This will lead to depression in varying degrees and then finally acceptance– WILLING acceptance. This is why the rest of us in the other two groups are and need to be armed.

This group of people will be completely helpless without State control. If there is a complete collapse of law and order without the State controlling millions quickly and efficiently, these folks will have to go through the stages of grief as they starve and die off. This would also make them extremely dangerous. Many will surely die in the denial stage as others progress to the anger stage of their process. Violence inevitably and very quickly increases as angry people don’t have water and food. Those in denial will be likely to never progress beyond it as they fall victim to angry people. Those that get to anger will vent that anger somewhere and in some way. Again, those they blame will be prone to danger, injury, and death.

In the bargaining stage, folks will be willing to do ANYTHING to survive. If the State does not swoop in and offer an option to people in need immediately, there are many folks out there more than willing to take advantage of these “bargainers” to further their own power towards survival. The bargaining stage will consolidate power in those that have and are willing to provide “favor” for something in exchange. If that is the State, then the State will gain power over those it controls and others that it may want to control. If that is the local gangsters, then they will become warlords themselves and those that are willing to bargain for those provisions that they control. Gangs will grow quickly and organize with warlords of power getting more powerful. This is the inevitable nature of humanity. History has proven this innumerable times, if you require proof.

Depression will be rampant in those stuck in those bargained positions, whether State-controlled or gangster-controlled. Many will be depressed enough for suicide as an escape. Suicides will be numerous, in the depressed seeing no way out, in varied situations. Many others would fail in their situations and either starve or be killed because of their failure. It would be a rough time indeed. As many progress to acceptance, a natural state of conflict will exist between those in power and those that have bargained for survival. This state of acceptance is very prone to volatility, and the usual rebellions (both local and regional) will occasionally cycle through. It would be in your best interest to avoid this group of folks altogether. Anyone that reads this blog will obviously say, “Well, duh.”

Once a person reaches acceptance, it is surely not locked down and static. Often those in horrible situations have to wake every day and progress through the stages of grief just to get up and dressed, and they are at risk daily for stage regression and miring. This is a very important fact about grief processing that is essential to remember: The stages are not 1,2,3,4,5 in order but can be a yo-yo within moments, days, weeks, months, or years. It can go 1,2,3,5,3,5,1,4,5,1,5 and take a lifetime to process. For others, it can progress in order, without deviation, and all within minutes. Some people can skip stages altogether and never have to actually process a stage. The essential fact for survival is to know and follow your own process and the process of others around you to improve your chances. To deny mental health issues and avoid their discussion increases your failure risk in any collapse situation.

For the second group of folks, the stages are the same, but the process is very different. This group includes most of the readers of this fine blog– those who did some preparation and are not surprised by the collapse, but feel that they were caught “not finished” with their ideal preps. Almost all preppers would be in this group of those wishing they had done more and had a little more time (myself included). For these people, denial will likely be minimal. Anger will most-likely be self-directed. Bargaining will most-likely be with those friends and family that were not prepared, urging them to quickly do what they can to help their own survival. Depression about those “lost” will be very real. If communication is quickly difficult or impossible, the unknown status of loved ones will bear down on us all. Depression about our state of being in a collapse environment is serious and also inevitable. Denying this fact is very dangerous indeed. Depending on the situation of the individual, the group, and the larger society, depression will eventually give way to acceptance, if you live long enough. It will be a tough time though for preppers too, not just the unprepared. While the unprepared masses will immediately feel overwhelmed and give up their control to others, the prepper will have to go through this cycle over and over about countless things putting them at risk for stage regression and miring.

Think about the things over the years that you have prepared for that you suddenly “light-bulbed” in terms of your preps. There are so many things that you could have missed that will become front and center in a collapse situation. Every time you run out of something that you wish you had stored more of, every time you wish you had something that you feel like you should have remembered, every time someone complains about some inconvenience and you know that ultimately it was up to you as the “survival nut that read that blog all the time”, and when you run out of toilet paper, you have to go through the grief cycle. When you have no more gasoline, it will be time for the grief cycle. When you run out of propane, batteries, ammo, sunblock, bug spray, tape, shoes, it will be time for the grief cycle. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance– that’s just the reality of how it works inside our brains.

When you think about the hunting or camping trip you had when you were a kid, you know the grief cycle. “Don’t tell me we forgot (BLANK)?!?!?!”. “Oh no, we forgot (BLANK)!”. “How could we forget (BLANK)??? Are you sure?” “Son of bleepity bleep bleep bleepity (depending on your relations), I can’t deal with this trip without (BLANK)!!!” “Maybe the neighbors have (BLANK) and will trade for cash”. “At least we have beer…(let the drinking to cope with (BLANK)-missing begin).” “Oh well, the trip will go on, and we can cope without (BLANK).” In my family, as long as (BLANK) wasn’t the beer, that was usually the conversation. It won’t be a camping trip or a hunting weekend though, so the magnitude and severity of the stages of grief will be much greater.

Finally, the group that you want to be in and hope to achieve is that of the fully prepared. Those lucky few are the hardcores– those that practiced living without power when they had it to see their prepping holes, those that ran drills and practiced security and safety, and those that forced their kids (adult or otherwise) to do what most families do not do– really prepare. Even these lovable nuts will have to go through the stages of grief. Denial, check. (It’s over on the news that there is the hint of collapse.) Anger, none, except perhaps venting to God and family. “I told them all!!! Why did they not listen! How could they be so stupid? R17.5 trillion. What did they think would happen?!!!” Bargaining is likely to be minimal, except internally, worrying about what is coming to them for challenges. Most of this will be directed at God, in the form of prayers or pleas. “Get us through today, and I will venture out and try to help people tomorrow” type of stuff. Depending on the nature and severity of the suffering around, these fully-prepared folks may find their Christian nature starts in on them, and they wonder if they are being “too selfish” or should be “making more of an effort” to help others than “just themselves”. Depression is a reality for the fully prepared, too. Minds are a tricky thing in crisis, and to deny this is to deny our humanity. Acceptance is much more likely in this group to be reached faster than the other groups and with more permanence.

Interacting with others will be more effective and safer if you can quickly and easily recognize that they may be in a different stage of grief than you and yours. It will not be easy to turn away a known family that are dangerously ill-prepared, even with the food and preps you were just willing to give them to try to help. It would especially not be easy to turn them away at the point of a gun when they again returned to you for help, desperate and bargaining for their lives. How would you deal with them if it was your blood family or a best friend of if they want to leave their three-year-old so that the child might live? These are horrible, difficult grief cycle issues that may be more reality than any of us might like in a collapse. Just because you are well prepared does not protect you from the grief cycle.

So, how does this help your preparations? What can we do about this now, during, and after a collapse to help survival? There are some concrete things to do. First, acknowledge that the stages of grief are indeed real, and talk about the grief cycle now. Think through your own “preparation grief stages” and how you might deal with various scenarios. For those of us in the middle group of preppers, realize that immediately progressing through denial and using the anger that you have for constructive action can save your life and the lives of others. Waiting a day in a dollar collapse may be too long. Have a plan for yourself and your group for collapse day. What happens if you are wrong? So, you have more dog food and gas that you might need that month, big deal. You may also find something that your “24-hour list” might be missing. We have a “24-hour list” that has many helpful survival items that we have thought about buying in quantities and without worry of cost in the event of collapse, as recommended by many prior articles and books on the subject. We have moved past the denial of ever needing it to have it ready. If you have not, perhaps it is time.

Second, realize that sometimes it is the little things that get to us more than the bigger ones. “So there has been a complete collapse, oh well. But we ran out of (BLANK)?!!?!?!?! That’s it, time for a complete freakout!!!” This is more real than you can possibly imagine. People in real-world survival situations have found this to be the real-world manifestation of people in grief stages. We have all been upset about something unrelated and taken our anger out on the dog or other loved one. Minimize these risks now. Have everyone in the family make a “top ten things I would not want to not have in a collapse” list. Many of the items may surprise you. While brownies seem like hardly a survival necessity to me, it might be the #3 on both my daughter’s and Doc’s wife’s list. Time to get some “just add water” survival brownies. For $20, we may have avoided a double freakout and have increased the time my family has to progress to acceptance of the bigger situation…well worth it. My own list was a challenge, at first full of foods and other niceties that later seemed petty and selfish. Later, the list had more practical items and retained some of the niceties, just because.

Lastly, realize that you may have a better grasp on your mental thread than others in your family or group. Talking about it openly now may prevent serious problems later. For us, we really don’t want to see how my daughter truly reacts and behaves when the grid goes down. She doesn’t like thinking, talking, or preparing for even a power outage. We force her to talk about it occasionally, and she does at least relate her thoughts that she knows we have prepared for her, and she appreciates the idea in the back of her mind. It would be the front of her mind that we would worry about when you take her Starbucks away! She is certainly the biggest risk for denial and anger. She would be likely to quickly progress past bargaining when she got there because she would be bargaining with us, so easy solution there. However, when depression hit her, it would likely be hard and smothering. It is up to me, as our family leader, to watch all my people closely, continuing to talk about how they are really doing and if they are progressing through the stages appropriately. Just talking about it helps people process that it is happening. Reminding them of how they denied an issue, then got angry, then pleaded for a bargain helps to reassure them that their current depression is NORMAL and will eventually pass.

So, to recap, before any collapse, talk and talk and talk and better prepare as a group. During a collapse, avoid denial quicksand and turn anger into action with a 24-hour list and a plan. After a collapse, continue to help lead people in their grief as well as the other areas of your strength. Perhaps there is a person in your group that is best suited for this, and you are not. That person should spend some time studying the grief stages and how people progress more quickly and effectively. Perhaps purchasing a book to help for the survival shelves might help if your group is poorly psychologically-gifted. There is the original text and there are more modern versions

There is also a more challenging modern grief “textbook” that is regarded by many in therapy circles to be a must-read if you are into the “current theory” grief idea.