The theory of the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – is imperfect at best. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the psychiatrist who conceived of it, acknowledged as much when she published her theory in 1969. She noted that the stages of grief can manifest out of order – and some stages may not appear at all – because different people experience grief in different ways. Even as she attempted to distill it down to its most basic elements, Kübler-Ross conceded grief was often too complicated to define.
The events of the last few weeks in Israel are a lesson in the complexity of grief. From the moment news surfaced that Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach had been kidnapped, there was very little evidence of the first stage – denial – on display. Indeed, Israelis and Diaspora Jews understood implicitly that this sort of tragedy was always a possibility, that there were terrorists lurking, planning to kidnap Israeli citizens. We hoped and prayed it would never happen again, but we knew it could – even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t contest this. Indeed, the only ones to issue a denial were Hamas, the very organization most likely responsible for the kidnapping and murder of the boys.
So we moved quickly to the bargaining stage. In Israel, Canada and around the world, Jews gathered to pray for the three teenagers, pleading to God, or alternatively the goodness of humanity, to bring the boys home safely. On Friday nights, many lit an extra candle in the hopes that doing so might somehow make their return more likely. Perhaps the Israeli government would have bargained as well, just as it did for Gilad Schalit. We’ll never know because the chance didn’t arise.
There has certainly been plenty of anger in the wake of the kidnappings, especially after the boys’ bodies were discovered near Hebron. At rallies in Israel, and on Facebook feeds everywhere, people called for retribution in an outburst that was unhelpful, even if emotionally understandable. Ultimately, that fury may have led to the revenge killing of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir. If that was why he died, it is a tragic affront to Jewish values.
Throughout this sad episode, the collective depression of the Jewish People has been palpable. It’s not only that four young boys are dead – though that’s certainly top of mind right now – the problem is there is no solution in sight to keep this from happening again and again, that having witnessed this latest nightmarish implication of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse we may still be unable to do anything to fix it. For some, sorrow is turning into despair.
As for acceptance, the final stage of grief in the Kübler-Ross model, there have been some signs of it, but maybe it’s too soon for that. Acceptance implies an ability to come to terms with what has happened – not to forget, but, with time, to learn from it. If anything positive is to come from this dark episode, that is precisely what must happen. When the cycle of grief ends, the arduous process of healing can begin. — YONI