Each year, we observe All Saints and All Souls Days, when we remember our departed loved ones. We visit their graves, pray for them, and recall our interactions with them while they were alive. We also have other holidays that commemorate the deaths of people involved in key events in our country’s history, such as Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio.
What does this tell us about our country and our people? For one thing, Filipinos love stories. Whether they are about our loved ones, alive or “unalive,” or other people, heroes or villains, we enjoy talking about them. We like recalling our memories of them, whether written in books and papers, or handed down through the grapevine, which sometimes stretches over generations. It is part of our culture to observe these days for trading stories and remembering the lives of people who have left an impact on us.
Also, we are reminded that grief and loss are part of the human experience. We feel these emotions whether we lose a loved one, a pet, a job we gave our best efforts to, or a business we worked hard on. According to Kübler-Ross, people go through five stages when dealing with grief: denial that the loss took place; anger at experiencing the loss; bargaining to minimize the effects of the loss; depression following the loss; and acceptance of the loss and moving on. The Kübler-Ross model has been adapted as a change management model in many organizations to help managers and employees deal with the need to constantly respond to a fast-paced environment. However, several caveats should be considered when using this model: first, that people respond to loss or change in different ways; second, that no metric measures mental or emotional responses such as denial or acceptance; and third, that not everyone goes through all five stages of the model.
I have seen friends who have lost several loved ones within months of each other, acquaintances who have ventured into businesses that did not quite work out as expected, and colleagues who have unexpectedly lost their jobs or have become seriously ill. They all share the same resilience, that quality Fred Astaire sang about, to “pick myself up, dust myself off, start all over again.” I do not know whether their experiences reflect all five stages of Kübler-Ross’ model, but I have observed that pain, whether it is a shared experience or an individual burden, is a tangible weight on the heart; that the determination to move forward can be nothing short of heroic; and tears shed in secret can be just as poignant, if not more so, than those shed openly.
Is it helpful to remember losses? Should we commemorate only the good and forget the bad? To answer the first question, we refer to the 70-20-10 learning model, where 70% of what we learn comes from our own experiences. Experiencing loss, reflecting on it, and coming to terms with it provide powerful life lessons. Overcoming our struggles makes us more resilient.
To answer the second question, the study of history shows us that we need to embrace the dark times as well as the triumphs of human endeavor. Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” testifies to the value of learning from history.
In practical terms, what can we learn from our own, or other people’s, experiences of loss and grief?
In our recent past, the pandemic has given us cause for both individual and collective grief in the loss of lives, negative long-term effects on health, and loss of jobs and livelihoods. So most, if not all, of us who are standing strong today can consider ourselves survivors. Some of us have become more compassionate and empathetic, others have become more cynical, pessimistic, and fatalistic.
But we cannot let the negatives outweigh the positives. We can strive to be agents of positive change for the sake of those who will come after us. Our country needs political leaders who will truly be public servants and embody the fundamental principle in our Constitution that “public service is a public trust.” We need business leaders who will apply the principles of producing “good goods” and services for their customers, provide “good work” for their employees, and actively work for “good wealth” for their stakeholders. And we need a citizenry that is willing to learn from past griefs resulting from corruption and malfeasance and to choose better leaders for a better tomorrow.
A lawyer, Frances Jeanne Sarmiento teaches Management of Organizations, Strategic Human Resource Management, and International Business Agreements at the Department of Management and Organization, Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business, De La Salle University.