The ‘New Grief’: How Families Grieve and Navigate Emotions After a Loss

Grief and the grieving process is a natural part of losing a loved one. As the United States witnessed more than 500,000 people lose their lives due to COVID-19, the inability to gather together and grieve in person led to the use of various technologies and resources to establish a personal connection.

In today’s world, more than ever before, countless people around the world are more familiar with the stages and elements of grief as we endured the COVID-19 pandemic. However, how we understand loss and how grieving is triggered is not just about the loss of a loved one, it also includes losing a job, the loss of human connection and contact, and the loss of traditional grieving when people can gather and support one another. These losses combined are a collective “new grief”.

The five stages of grief, conceived by Swiss psychiatrist and death expert Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, are the most commonly known. Although the five stages are certainly recognized and in widespread practice, there is an ongoing discussion about additional stages as it relates to individuals and their processes of navigating grief.

For many, the inability to gather in person and support one another introduced an additional stage of grief: New grief from the inability to grieve in a traditional context. It is imperative to note this is a personal journey and no two people grieve the same. Not all of these stages are necessarily applicable, which invites the notion of additional stages of grief.

Grief expert David Kessler, who worked with Kübler-Ross, has called “meaning” the sixth stage of grief, as chronicled in his book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.

In a March 23, 2020 online issue of Harvard Business Review, Kessler speaks to needing that sixth step—to make sense and cull meaning from unthinkable grief and loss. He says, “I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times. Even now people are realizing they can connect through technology. They are not as remote as they thought.”

Technology has been omnipresent during the pandemic, and although some may feel uncomfortable with it, many find it key to planning a personalized service for loved ones and for coping with life after loss. The “new grief” forces us to find a way to remember and celebrate life prior to the pandemic. It is essential to find meaning in these events, which will help individuals move forward as society looks toward the return to “normalcy.”

Resources such as eCondolence.com, Cemetery.com and shiva.com provide an all-encompassing platform for grieving families, which includes helpful checklists for planning meaningful funerals and memorials and suggestions for coping with the aftermath of loss. Prior to the pandemic, many funeral services were hosted online, allowing those unable to attend in person a chance to share in that important step toward healing. However, having a funeral online was considered an added service to an in person gathering, it was not the primary way to memorialize someone. The paradigm and societal shift brought on by the pandemic results in a social acceptance of technology and using 21st century ways of connecting and finding meaning in troubling times. This evolution of technology, grief, and how to navigate its stages, can only help families get to the other side.

Acknowledging grief is the first step to finding meaning within its constructs. Once that meaning is deciphered and acknowledged, life, as it once was known, can continue on the path to a new normal.

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