Grief Series Part 4: The Not So Little Things-Grieving the “New Normal” and Socially Negated Losses

By Cindy Roe and Marie-Lise Baroutjian

NY Project Hope is a crisis counseling program that provides support and resources to help people cope with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Given the pervasiveness of the Covid pandemic, people everywhere have experienced loss- and for many, multiple losses- in a wide variety of new and unexpected ways over the past year.  And while the price of any loss can include feeling distraught, overwhelmed, angry, or any other emotion that humans naturally feel and express during the grieving process, our ability to heal emotionally and move forward in our lives afterward is equally normal.  However, an important first step in order for us to get there is having a better understanding of not only our own grief relating to all that we’ve lost, but the grieving process as well.  In this fourth installation of our 5-part series on pandemic-related grief and loss, we’ll be building from our previous blogs in this series by discussing grief relating to losses that may be marginalized or dismissed as insignificant by others.

boy sitting aloneWhen most people think about grief, they might automatically equate it with the death of a loved one.  While mourning the loss of someone close to us is without a doubt a highly stressful grief experience, other types of losses can also leave a person with a substantial degree of grief.  In the context of the pandemic, the lost sense of normalcy that came about from the way we had to adjust to life during the past year- -like the lack of privacy and the shrinking of our personal space we endured from working and schooling from home, coupled with being around our household members all the time; the inability to grab dinner or a movie out somewhere; social distancing limits that brought travel to a standstill; even things like limits on buying toilet paper– served to compound the losses of everyday things that many of us took for granted.  Lost too were people’s ability to attend milestone moments like special birthdays, weddings, school events and family gatherings that zoom and drive-by parades simply cannot replace.  Yet the unfortunate fact is that, since nearly everyone has experienced a multitude of these “everyday living” types of losses during the pandemic, their emotional significance may have been inadvertently diminished in the wave of our “new normal” way of life.

The terms disenfranchised grief, or socially negated losses, both refer to grief or losses that aren’t acknowledged or supported by others or through some sort of social ritual.  Basically, these types of losses can leave the grieving person without much in the way of emotional support from others because of how those losses are judged; others simply don’t view the loss as significant enough to warrant the normal range of feelings that are common during grief, such as anger, sadness, despair, or numbness.  Particularly common and troublesome thanks to the pandemic is the way people’s losses have seemed to pile up one atop the other, putting them at greater risk of feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of their situation and frustrated at the lack of understanding by friends or family members, who may tell the grieving person “everybody had that happen, it’s not just you” or “what’s the big deal? It’s just the way it is”.  This in turn can spur complications with their ability to process their emotions in a healthy way.  For example, in delayed grief, the bereft suppresses their initial reactions to their losses, only to have those emotions build exponentially with each subsequent loss.  So, the first time a grieving person senses that those they rely on for emotional support are instead dismissive of their feelings and the significance of their loss, they’re emotionally injured again by this rejection, which puts them at greater risk of bottling up their emotions.  For others, their grief may instead manifest in physical symptoms like intestinal upset or headaches or in maladaptive ways of coping such as substance abuse, which are common ways of masking the intensity of one’s grief.

sunset with birdsIn a similar vein, anticipatory grief, which is a grief response that occurs prior to an expected loss, relates to the heightened uncertainty

and loss of control over one’s life brought about by the many life changes that have occurred during the pandemic.  Consider for example how this may affect students in the class of 2021; they may be experiencing quite a lot of grief over how their graduations, proms, and class trips will turn out if they’re expecting that covid safety rules will drastically limit the number of in-person attendees who can watch them receive their diplomas, force them to scale back their post-prom celebrations, and cause them to lose out on their class trips.

What Should We Say or Do?

First off, it’s always important to remember that grieving a loss is a uniquely personal, individualized experience.  So, while there are no hard and fast rules for what’s right or wrong when it comes to supporting someone who is grieving, we do have some tips that can help:

  • Listen with empathy-people who are working through any kind of loss need to feel that they’re being heard. This means giving them plenty of opportunities to express their feelings as they are, without judgment.  Validating someone’s feelings by simply listening attentively shows that you, the listener, value and respect them just the way they are.
  • Resist the urge to say “I know how you feel” or share your own similar stories-empathy also involves keeping the focus on the grieving person. While you may see similarities between what the person is going though to your own experiences, it’s key to remember that each person experiences a loss in their own unique way.  Better to take a wait and see approach-share your own story only if the griever directly asks you about your experiences in a matter-of-fact way.  You could do this by simply saying “yes, I remember what that was like” then redirecting the conversation back to how they’re doing.
  • Be Honest-it’s okay if you find that you can’t relate to what the grieving person is going through. And there are really very few, if any, words that someone can say to a grieving person that can help “fix” their loss.  Simply saying “I am so sorry” and offering an empathetic listening ear and a warm hug (if you’re both comfortable with that) offers them the human connection that can be helpful.  And it’s equally important to acknowledge to ourselves that supporting someone who is hurting from a loss can feel awkward for us as well.  Personal honesty about our own level of discomfort with grief is also helpful for the grieving person since it can increase our own ability to provide empathy and support that’s more heartfelt and genuine.

Want to Learn More?

Here are links to some great articles on grief and loss during the pandemic:

COVID-19 Grief and Loss Can Be Particularly Hard—Here Are 6 Ways to Cope | SELF

Disenfranchised Grief in a Year of Pandemic Losses – The New York Times (

Grief Support: Knowing What To Say And What To Avoid – The Grief Recovery Method

Also, check out the other videos and blogs on Independent Living’s website for some coping tips and strategies for managing pandemic-related stress, particularly this video on grieving socially negated losses which was produced by Independent Living’s NY Project Hope crisis counseling team.

Plus, the Crisis Counselors for NY Project Hope at Independent Living are always available to help, since sometimes it can be helpful to talk to someone you don’t know. Want to know more about how we can help?  Give us a call at 845-762-2275-talking to us is always free, voluntary, and confidential.

Visit Independent Living, Inc. on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or on the web at for more blogs, tips and videos on stress management techniques and coping strategies. #iliprojecthope.

Cindy Roe and Marie-Lise Baroutjian are crisis counselors from Independent Living, Inc. working on with the NY Project Hope program.