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Sharing Reflecting on Collective Grief

Collective Grief

When is grief individual?

We often hear that loss is a very individual and unique experience for people. That is certainly true when losing a loved one. As an example, loss is very specific for the survivors who knew a certain person as a wife, daughter, sister, mother, friend, mentor, or coworker. There is a knowing of this person that they all share yet their relationships to their loved one are significantly distinct.

The way we grieve can also be very individual. Do we desire solitude? Do we look at photo albums and videos? Do we read old greeting cards? Do we buy flowers or light a candle? Do we say a prayer? Do we go to a favorite spot and reminisce? Our choices are all okay even if they are different from one another.

When is grief collective?

Thinking about 9/11 reminded me of the concept of Collective Grief. Collective Grief is a phenomenon that transcends personal boundaries. It is a testament to the interconnectedness of human emotions and experiences. 9/11 highlighted our capacity for empathy, compassion and unity in response to loss and adversity. Although different for those who witnessed the destruction first-hand versus in the news, and different for those who directly experienced personal loss, we all shared a universal emotion in response to this loss and tragedy.

Do you remember where you were when you learned about this catastrophe? I do. I was getting ready for work while I heard the news on TV. I saw live footage of the plane flying into the 1st tower of the World Trade Center. Then the 2nd tower. Next the Pentagon. Lastly, Pennsylvania. I was in utter shock and disbelief. I had so many questions. I reached out to my husband. We wept for the victims. We were in grief as were millions of others.

Sadly, there have been so many moments of Collective Grief. I remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It felt like the world stood still. Now the recent fire in Hawaii with such destruction and loss of human lives, pets, businesses and history. A true paradise lost. Wars and natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding foster shared pain. The COVID-19 pandemic is another profound example of Collective Grief. Having transcended borders and cultures, it was not limited by geographical boundaries. It brought people together in shared sorrow and empathy. 

In response to the May 27, 2022 school shooting in Ulvade, Texas, Nora Gross, Ph.D. described the Collective Grief as more than sadness. “It’s when we all have a sense we are feeling similar [grief] with others–other people we don’t know—in the midst of an extreme tragedy, crisis, or change.” 

What can be positive about Collective Grief?

Being an optimist, I like to think that crises can generate something positive. Following are some ways Collective Grief brings people together:

  1. Unity through shared emotions
    When people grieve collectively, they share their emotional burdens, finding solace and comfort in each other’s experiences.
  2. Social cohesiveness
    Despite differences, we share the capacity to empathize with others’ suffering.
  3. Media and technology
    Media and technology serve a significant role in disseminating news that allow for global understanding and Collective Grief.

Collective Grief reminds us that we are not alone, and together, we can find strength and hope for the future.

For further reading:

Yuko, E. Health and wellness on line. The U.S. is wrapped in ‘collective grief’ from school shootings and the pandemic—and it’s rewiring our brains, experts say. May 27, 2022