For weeks now we have heard that BP will pay all legitimate claims. Though I have never heard them state exactly what they mean by that I have to assume that the forms a claimant must fill out require them to prove that they have suffered a financial loss. But what about the losses that are not so easily quantified.
In 1969 Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying in which she described the 5 emotional stages people go through when dealing with the knowledge of their impending death. Recently her concept has been applies more widely – to those experiencing any catastrophic loss or disaster. So far, the people in the Gulf Coast seem to be following it to a tee.
The first stage is ‘denial’ and for the first month or more most of us wanted to believe that a huge company like BP would surely be able to crimp that well closed and the oil in the sea would just disperse. But it didn’t.
Next is ‘anger’. Anyone watching the news has seen how the anger and rage has mounted. It’s a time of frustration combined with a feeling of impotence.
Then comes ‘bargaining’ and we see this stage as we ask for millions of dollars to compensate for our losses.
Then comes ‘depression’.At this time we are just seeing the beginnings of this phase. A boat captain has already taken his own life aboard his boat. You will see an increase in people feeling severely anxious and deeply depressed. This is the phase that concerns me. For how do we quantify a heart attack or a stroke? How do we prove that it was directly caused by the oil spill? How can you say that an act of domestic violence or a relapse back to substance abuse is the cause of the oil spill? How do you put a value on a marriage that breaks under the strain of the losses? Do these fall under ‘legitimate’ claims? How do you decide what the cash value is of those losses? Long after the businesses have been financially compensated the physical and emotional damage will remain.
The last phase is ‘acceptance’. During that phase we come to terms with our inevitable fate and try to go on. Those affected by this tragedy will do just that – eventually. But not for quite a while. As newscasters discuss the horrific tradegy that was Katrina they are saying that at least it was over quickly and people could begin recovering. At the time no one would have ever said there was anytrhing redeeming about Katrina. People are in the acceptance phase of that disaster. And over time they will get to that phase with this one too.
There is no doubt about it – the Gulf coast is going through the stages of death and dying. And, while it is certainly sad to see the environment being destroyed and watching industries suffer financial ruin, the actual toll on human life is yet to be addressed. In the end, this will be the greatest tragedy of all.