Friday, August 2, 2013

The Five Stages of Grief as it Pertains to Luggage Loss

Something terrible happened to me on my way to BlogHer. Southwest Airlines lost my suitcase, something that had never happened to me before. It was extremely devastating to me and threw me off kilter for a solid day and a half, maybe more.

I imagine that it was less traumatizing for Southwest.

Upon realizing that I had arrived in Chicago but my luggage had not, my first instinct was to cancel all my conference plans and immediately board a plane back to DC where I could live in the sweatpants and t-shirts that live in my drawers and were not en route to some undisclosed location.
I spent a chunk of time shuffling back and forth in one place going over the pros and cons of the run-home plan before I began to work my way through the five stages of grief.

The five stages of grief is the common term for the Kübler-Ross model stating that when faced with the reality of an extreme, awful fate, an individual will experience a series of emotional states: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.

In case you aren’t familiar with Ms. Kübler-Ross’ work, I will walk you through a simple (extreme, awful) example prior to describing the luggage debacle.

Let’s say your two male gerbils have babies. Let’s go with that extreme, awful example.

Denial: Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Overwhelming visual evidence be dammed.

Anger: The pet store sold me a boy and a girl but told me they were two boys. I should firebomb the pet store, but instead of throwing Molotov cocktails, I will lob hamster balls full of infant gerbils.

Bargaining: If the mother gerbil doesn’t have any more babies, I promise to never put an embarrassing hat on a gerbil again. I’m sorry, gerbil gods. I’m sooooorry.

Depression: I am going to end up with eighty thousand baby gerbils.

Acceptance: I am going to end up with eighty thousand baby gerbils.

Are you clear on the five stages now? Good. Let’s discuss these five stages as they apply to arriving in Chicago for a blogging conference with no clothes but for those on your back and no toothbrush but for those on sale at Walgreen’s.

Denial: Huh, I am the only person standing here at this baggage claim carousel. I’m sure that just means that I’m early. Or late. Don’t worry, Stimey, your bag is going to come. That one suitcase sadly traveling around the carousel wasn’t mine last time it went around, but maybe this time it will be. I should check the luggage tag again. My suitcase isn’t lost. That would be absurd. Airlines specialize in getting luggage to where it is supposed to go. My luggage isn’t lost.

Anger:  My luggage is lost. What’s that, baggage claim lady? You don’t track the luggage? You won’t know where it is until you find it in the wrong place? You have no idea where the suitcase is or how long it will take to get to Chicago? You will deliver my suitcase to my hotel when you find it MAYBE tonight? Look, baggage claim lady, I know you didn’t personally send my luggage to American Samoa or wherever it ended up, but you are making it really hard to not yell at you right now.

The great thing about the Anger stop on the Kübler-Ross scale is that you don’t have to choose just one target. Nor do you have to be rational about it. After Alex was less than supportive about my great loss (i.e. he did not teleport to Chicago to FIND MY LUGGAGE FOR ME FIND IT NOW I CAN’T GO TO BLOGHER WITHOUT MY LUGGAGE FIND IT FIND IT FIND IT FIND IT NOW!), I turned my rage on him in a series of passive aggressive long pauses between hostile texts. It’s an art.

Bargaining: If my suitcase arrives before I go to sleep, I will never ever roll my eyes dramatically when an airline wants to charge me $12 for a small packet of peanuts and two ounces of vodka. Okay. I will still roll my eyes, but I do promise to always give my trash to the flight attendant when she walks through the cabin before landing instead of stuffing it into the seat pocket in front of me. And I promise to stop stealing barf bags and ripping out photos of dogs that look like my dog from the in-flight magazine.

Depression: This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Everything is gray. They will never find my bag. ALL of my cute clothes were in there. My running shoes were in there. I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO RUN AGAIN. I am sure going to miss my favorite hair brush. I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO BRUSH MY HAIR AGAIN. Whhhhyyyy does everything bad always happen to meeeeeeee?

Acceptance: It is 10pm. Not only is my luggage not at the hotel, but the people at the airline still don’t even know where it is. My luggage is not coming. I will go to the Walgreen’s down the street from my hotel to buy toothpaste, underwear, a new hairbrush (sob!), deodorant, and boxer shorts to sleep in. I will also think that I bought a toothbrush, but will actually not have done so, leaving me to brush my teeth by scrubbing them with a washcloth smeared with toothpaste. I am prepared to wear the same purple shirt and old jeans for the next four days. It will not be okay, but it is happening.

And that’s how you deal with luggage loss.

You will be pleased to know that I was woken at 1 am with a phone call from the airline that woke both me and my roommate from deep sleeps. The woman on the phone told me that my suitcase would be delivered sometime between 1 and 5 am.

“Do I have to be in the lobby to get it?” I asked.

And then the woman laughed at me. “No,” she said. “Go back to sleep. We’ll leave it with the front desk.” Then she laughed some more, no doubt imagining me in my boxer shorts and washcloth-scrubbed teeth sitting forlornly in the lobby at four in the morning.

The airlines taught me a valuable lesson that day. They taught me that I should avoid checking my luggage at all costs. They taught me that if I do have to check my luggage, that I should put my favorite hairbrush, pajamas, and one change of clothes in my carry-on bag. Also, if you have to re-buy your toiletries, double check that a toothbrush makes it into your shopping bag.

That is the lesson the airlines taught me. The lesson I learned is that the airlines lost my suitcase once, which obviously means that I’ve paid my dues and that it will never get lost again, so I should start packing my valuables in checked luggage all the time. It’s how probability works, people.

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