All over the world we still are talking about this election. It took me until today to feel like I could write something down. I wondered about why it has taken me so many days to write as I have a lot buzzing in my head and then, I realized, this is because I am still going through stages of grief. Several stages a day even.
In my work, my clients and I frequently talk about grief. We discuss that grief can be not just the loss of a person but, the loss of an experience, an opportunity, a thing or an idea. The example I use is by looking at your dead car battery.
Say you wake up in the morning and get ready for school or work, go out to your car to get to work and the car battery is dead. The first thing you do is to try to start it again. You are in denial that it won’t start. ‘Of course, it is going to start”, you think to yourself. It hasn’t passed your mind that anything is wrong. You think, the car is starting and you’re going to do whatever it was what you were expecting to do. It would function. You shake your head, ‘huh?’ you think. You try to start it over and over. You don’t really believe that it won’t start.
Then you move into bargaining. You plead with the car to start, you beg and you coax. You may say that you will take the car to get high-octane gas, go to church next Sunday, anything to get the car to start. You may even fiddle with the air, music or other levers in the car to see if that will change the outcome and help it spring to life.
But the battery doesn’t start and then you move into anger. You are hitting the dashboard and yelling at the inert engine to start. You are pissed. You use choice words either under your breath or loud enough for the neighbors to hear and yet, the battery is still dead.
Sadness comes next. You moan, collapsing in your worries about how the day has gone to pot and if you don’t get to work or school on time everything else is also is going to fall apart.
Then, acceptance. You pull out your phone to get AAA, a Uber or race off to catch a Trimet bus to get going. You get it and understand the battery is not going to come to life and fire up the engine.
This week millions of people of all diversities and majorities have been progressing through these stages. I kept refreshing my screen to the 538 website which I had been using as my barometer to help balance my stomach clenches over the last couple weeks. Tuesday morning, I thought that a 70.2% certainly of a Hillary win was pretty good. Then when the numbers fell and the states were too close to call I was definitely in denial. I couldn’t compute in my head that this could actually be happening. As I cuddled with my boys on Tuesday night, as per our ritual, I cozied up to my seven-year old’s sleepy form while hoping against hope that the next time I refreshed my screen it would show better numbers. It did not. As I lay in the dark talking to myself in my head, I really thought that it was just a bad moment, denying that anything could really go wrong.
That night, I stayed up holding my phone, listening to NPR and watching CNN until I heard that Clinton had called Trump. As I kept switching sources, I felt I was truly watching a horrible crash that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from. I willed the outcome to be different. I went through bargaining, anger and a lot of sadness. I woke up my husband to tell him the news and we held each other, we talked and I cried for the better part of two hours. We scrambled our approach to tell our boys the outcome in the morning. The night had started out with us having a civics lesson on coloring in a map of America was the states were called out for the electoral college numbers. Those red states are still stained on our dry erase place mat as a reminder of a bad night.
I went back to hanging out in bargaining for a while on Wednesday since all the votes had not yet been tallied and was trying to convince myself that maybe, just maybe the electoral map could change. I have a problem with chronic optimism when faced with bad odds. Later I sunk back down into sadness with smatterings of anger and, I suppose, acceptance. I know what has happened is true but, I really can’t stomach processing it all.
The rest of the week I was the witness of several client’s experiences of grief in the process. Emotionally washed up at night, I took to baking, listening to musicals and treating the radio like a hot potato. I would turn it on for a bit and then suddenly flick it off.
So, here we are five days later and we are all still processing. I think if Hillary had won there would be another 50 million or so going through their own experience of grief. We are a nation in conflict and grief. It will take more than a support group to help us get through this. I want to be hopeful but, my well is a bit dry. Today was #WorldKindnessDay and I checked in with a couple of friends who had big events in their lives and that felt good.
Over the weekend, we watched Les Miserables and Fiddler on the Roof. I explained to my children the grief of those stories and it helped me to see them confused by such horrid behavior, racism and anti-Semite rhetoric in the story lines. They, who have grown up with the only president they have known being a man of color, were shocked to learn that pogroms existed for decades and not too long ago. I felt I took a little of their innocence in explaining these stories, however, I also loved that they instinctly knew that it was not okay to act like this as a human today. This gives me hope.
In my grief, and this week they have seen me process a lot of it, my boys have supported my new acceptance in ways they don’t know yet. Yes, this has happened but, the story does not end here. We have work to do to continue to teach, learn and practice empathy. They don’t know it but, my boys are already guiding me in this process.