The Five Stages Of Grief: Brexit Style

It was the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who brought the “stages of grief” model to the attention of the world. In it, she explained the experiences a person will tend to go through after the death of a loved one.

Since then it has been taken on to develop past this framework. We don’t just look at the stages of grief through death of friends or family, but the death or loss of anything.

It’s hard not to look at the reactions of people regarding Britain voting to leave the EU and see it as anything other than fitting in to that framework. Hell, I pretty much perfectly fell in to the stages on a day by day basis as well.

  1. Denial (Thursday)

Throughout the day I hadn’t even considered the possibility we’d leave. I’ve been pretty vocal about my views on the EU and whether we should stay in or not, and I was somewhat reassured that it would all be fine. As our country we are quite conservative (with a small “c”) and tend towards the status quo in times of uncertainty. Even if people were unsure of where to place their vote in the build up, they wouldn’t want to rock the boat when it came to it. We’d be alright.

Come Thursday evening, I was sat on my sofa watching the results trickle through. I had only anticipated on staying up for the first few results, more to experience this moment more than anything. I had a busy day ahead on Friday, so I decided I’d watch a couple, see everything was going according to plan, then I’d go to bed.

Sunderland went more “leave” than anticipated. Newcastle didn’t go as “remain” as expected.

“That’s fine” I said to myself. “It will even out”.

1am came. Still I was awake, still waiting for the inevitable moment that the “remain” side would come through. It would come through, I was sure of it. I couldn’t even consider that it may not.

Dimbleby, Vine and the gang on the BBC were clearly in shock but trying to present it clearly and calmly. They kept saying it was early and things could change. The more that went the way of “leave”, the more they refused to acknowledge that this was really, really going badly for the “remain” campaign. The unspoken dialogue was clear: it will be alright eventually. It will get better.

By 3.30am I was still awake, still waiting for that moment where everything evened out and it all turned out okay.

That moment never came.

  1. Bargaining (Friday)

According to the Kübler-Ross model, anger was supposed to come next. But it didn’t.

Actually, that’s not true. Anger has existed through pretty much every stage of my grief with Brexit (even acceptance). But the dominant feeling on Friday was that of bargaining.

(See also, the petition for the second referendum).

I haven’t signed the petition, simply because I think it’s a waste of time. It’s nice to get the message across that we don’t agree, but the government won’t give in to it. If they do decide to go for another petition it will be for reasons beyond this petition (such as the complete and utter collapse of the economy making it untenable to follow through).

Instead, I was Googling “what can you do if you voted remain” and “will britain definitely leave the eu”. I was looking for ways in which I could get involved. Could I protest? Could I make a deal with God? If I pinched myself really hard would I suddenly wake up a realise it was all a horrible dream? There had to be something I could do, right?

Anger (Saturday)

Nope, there is nothing I can do. And I’m angry.

My anger was aimed at:

– the entire country, for choosing fear and exclusion instead of openness and inclusion.

– David Cameron, for putting this kind of decision to the public and not properly educating them on the options.

– the government, for giving people a crap quality of life then presenting them with the choice of keeping their crappy lives as they are, or gambling by making a change that they didn’t help to explain, and then being surprised when people chose “change”.

– the political system, for developing a society in which people voted in a certain way without realising that vote actually had consequences and would matter (really, that people thought their vote wouldn’t count to the result may be the most tragic thing here).

– the remainers who didn’t put forward a single positive argument for staying in, who didn’t create a single narrative that people could buy in to, and instead campaigned on fear, when the only people who respond to those tactics were sick of being talked down to, and didn’t even use fear tactics that would speak to those they were trying to scare.

– Jeremy Corbyn, for his rudderless and short-sighted approach to mobilising his supporters to side with him (which they didn’t).

– Boris Johnson, for lying to and using those in society who have the most to lose by this decision to help his own personal aspirations.

– the lowest-common-denominator gutter press, for creating a society based on anti-intellectualism and hatred for outsiders.

– the older generations, for leaving a future for their children that their children don’t want.

– the younger generations, for not voting in greater numbers when it was their whole future that was on the line.

– myself, for talking a big talk but ultimately doing nothing to help create a society I want to believe in, and now being stuck in a country and in a community that I don’t want.

Depression (Sunday)

I am a man without a country. I’m an island within an island. My identity has been stripped from me against my will.

England are playing on Monday, but I don’t care. Why should I? I don’t want us to succeed, we don’t deserve it. I want to see us fail, to crash and burn in wild style, just like I want the economy to continue to f*ck up as a giant middle finger to those who let us down at every stage of this process. My house will lose value, but I don’t care. We don’t deserve nice things.

This may sound extreme and a bit over-the-top, but I feel it. I’m ashamed to be British. I believe in inclusion, compassion and understanding, and this country voted against those things.

Hell, I had to watch as the county that I’m from, that I spent 21 years living in, was featured as one of the most Eurosceptic parts of the country. Romford, just three miles down the road from where I was born, from where I got my first full time job, where I spent all my teen nights out, was on the homepage of the BBC website with people celebrating leave, spewing hateful bile towards immigrants as part of their joy for us having cut ourselves off.

How can I go back there? It’s not my home anymore. I have no home.

F*ck this. F*ck everything.

Acceptance (Monday)

They say time is a great healer. It may not heal, but it certainly numbs.

I can’t begin to say that I am okay with this decision. It still hurts, in the same way that it never really stops hurting when you lose a loved one. I still completely disagree with the decision we have made, I’m totally in fear for the future of the company and I hate so many things that have happened to bring us to this point.

But through that all I’m starting to accept what has happened. It has happened, and it’s pretty obvious as to why it did. Those who are to blame are becoming clearer.

I’ll never stop believing what I think is right. I believe that intolerance will never truly win, I believe that we have a duty to those on the other side of White Cliffs (just as we do on this side of them), and I believe that the EU is the best thing for us, warts and all.

We cannot refuse to accept what has happened. We cannot try to strike a deal with God to overturn what has been done. We cannot get unnecessarily angry and start shouting at each other through keyboards on social media, and we can’t lock ourselves away and cry ourselves to sleep.

Instead it is our duty to accept what has happened and try to make things better. Whether that’s through peaceful protest, campaigning, or going as far as trying to become a politician yourself, it is up to all of us to see the world as it is as of Friday morning and try to make the most of it. We’re in this boat now, it’s time we plugged those holes together and create a society where we can all benefit.

We’ve never been needed more. All of us.


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