Grieving the loss of normalcy

Feelings of denial and sadness are normal

The introduction to such uncertain times induces many different emotions for different people. With its grasp on our nation, COVID-19 has diminished a number of aspects of daily life. Oftentimes, the pit-feeling emotion of loss is followed by the feeling of grief.

Grief is the emotion attached to the sense of loss. The loss of normalcy and physical connection causes a collective grief within people, which can result in many of the classic symptoms of this phenomenon. 

In an article for Crossroads: Hospice & Palliative Care, experts break down the varying mental, physical, and behavioral interactions and impacts grief has on people. 

“When we stop thinking of grief as a timeline, we can look at the actual physical, mental, emotional and spiritual reactions individuals may experience. Simply knowing these feelings are normal can help some people in mourning. Understanding the symptoms of grief is also helpful for those around them … The bereaved may go through a period of time when they feel at peace and then return to sadness. All of this is normal. [Some] common mental reactions to grief: difficulties concentrating, continuously thinking about the loss, difficulty making decisions, low self-esteem, and self-destructive thoughts,” the article stated. 

In a recent article with Harvard Business Review, David Kessler, an expert on death and grief, suggests that aside from the sense of grief often associated with the loss of a loved one, during this pandemic, people are also experiencing what is known as anticipatory grief.

“Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death…With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this,” Kessler said.

For many high school students, the loss of routine, school events and sports have left them feeling stressed and sad as their plans and hopes for the school year were cut short with little notice. For some, it was their last time on campus, and for others, it was the last time seeing some of their friends for months. And for many, it is anxiety for the next year.

“For next year I am definitely concerned about in person teaching time, as I am taking a lot of hands-on classes and do not think that I will be able to get the most out of them if they are not done in person [one being] anatomy which is a dissection based course. Sports is also a major concern of mine. Definitely for me, I feel like I’ve been robbed of two great seasons (one because of an injury, one because of corona) and I really do not want to miss out on what could be an amazing last season.” junior Alexandra Fine wrote.

Heather Servaty-Seib, professor of counseling psychology of Purdue University, discusses how it is possible for people to experience grief without the connection of death but rather loss.

“Grief is not specific to death. As humans we grieve all types of non-death losses and that includes situations where expected and anticipated rites of passage can no longer occur — at least not occur in the same way. We need to challenge ourselves to be creative in modifying these rites of passage — to develop approaches that still allow for meaningful ritual and community connection,” Servaty-Seib wrote.

For many students, there is a collective understanding that the school year will be finished online, an already incredibly unfamiliar norm. How people handle this varies.

“Frankly, the cancellation of all our senior events hasn’t completely hit me yet, and it’ll probably really register with me in late May when I realize that we should be celebrating our last week of high school, but instead we’re just sitting at home. The Class of 2020 definitely has not had a proper send-off, and so it’ll feel like summer, along with the transition to college, is missing something” senior Keila Roetman wrote.

A rhythm that students have maintained for nearly thirty weeks was thrown off course and into uncharted waters, something that was barely experienced before during the fires, now on a much more massive scale. In an article regarding the impacts of change, claims that drastic change “may trigger depression or anxiety at any point in life.”

This magnitude of unfamiliarity has affected students in various amounts of ways. 

“‘Traumatic events’ are terrible, unexpected events like accidents, natural disasters… can result in emotional and psychological trauma, and this can have an impact on all aspects of our wellbeing… sometimes these events change how you see yourself,” reports.  

In an article for ThriveGlobal, a technology and media company that helps individuals struggling with stress and emotional burnout, Dana Reid, D.O., Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist, comments upon the new waves of struggles induced by this pandemic. Along with this, how the seniors subjected to this new and unfamiliar method of schooling will have to undergo new alterations to their academic learning routines when shifting to college or a job. 

“There is also a level of uncertainty of what will happen with college or pursuing a job and career. For seniors who will be starting college in the fall, orientation dates may be changing or are switching to virtual. Some may be worrying about what it will be like starting college during this time. Will classes still start in the fall, what will it be like making friends, will they still have to practice social distancing and wear masks to classes? All of a sudden, their idea of college in the fall may look different,” Reid wrote.

Regardless of age, it is common to experience some sort of emotional distress during times of change or uncertainty. Faced with a world that no longer feels secure or certain, many waver under the shuddering foundation that is our new daily life.

“It is devastating to know you have had the last of your physical high school experience, and I want to blame the world for it, but all we can do is ride this wave … In the end, it is sad because [senior events are] something I won’t be able to look back upon,” senior Sharan Aravindh said.

As new information regarding the virus comes out every few days, freshmen, sophomores and particularly juniors are worried about what the future of in-person teaching will be like and how the college application process is changing.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking to do because of how much uncertainty there is regarding the requirements for the college apps right now. The fact that I don’t really know when I [can] take the SAT is a little worrisome because not all schools have canceled the requirement yet (I don’t think so at least),” juniors Sanjana Sharma wrote.

In such uncertainty, the feeling of grief is prominent, but luckily, there are ways to manage these emotions. Kessler states that although there are various stages of grief and each is felt at different intervals and intensities, these emotions are not straightforward, but rather unique to every individual.

“Understanding the stages of grief is a start … but whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world,” Kessler wrote in the article.

Acceptance, the last stage of grief, is where comfort can be found. Understanding that something or someone has been lost and accepting our new reality gives us a sense of power that allows people to reestablish control over themselves.

The grieving process takes time and everyone will heal at their own pace. To help manage your emotions, according to, try to maintain a positive and hopeful mindset, connect with your loved ones, practice self-care and maintain a healthy media balance (meaning limit media content if it’s causing you stress or anxiety).  

If individuals slowly begin to accept their new reality, a new perspective is unlocked and the healing process can begin.