What is Collective Grief?

Asma Rehman, LPC

What is Collective Grief? Collective grief happens when a community, society, village, or nation all experience extreme change or loss. Collective grief can manifest in the wake of major events such as: war, natural disasters, or others that result in mass casualties or widespread tragedy.

Like individual grief, there is a feeling of lack of control that comes with collective grief. We were unable to prevent the loss or change, and we feel powerless in its wake.

And not only do we experience this collective grief after any time of national crisis, but we can also feel what is known as anticipatory grief as the crisis continues on. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get when we are–in a way–preemptively mourning and grieving. We see the loss around us, and we see that the problems have not been fixed, so we know more is coming down the line.

And when whole communities start to experience collective and anticipatory grief, that feeling of being out of control can become stronger than ever. When usually we are only in tune with our own grieving and mourning processes, we’re now linked and connected and in tune with the grief and mourning processes of others.

It can feel overwhelming. And the healing process for collective grief doesn’t always look the same as for individual grief, which can make us feel even more unprepared.

Read: 5 Ways to Cope With the Stress of Life Going Back to “Normal” Post-Lockdown

Why are we experiencing it now?

Right now, people across America are feeling collective grief on many different scales. There is the grief that comes with the loss of those who have died due to the COVID-19 crisis, or due to the police brutality epidemic. There is grief over job loss in the wake of COVID-19, over milestones like graduations and weddings being canceled, and the grief that comes with feeling completely separated from our communities as we self-isolate to protect one another.

It is an unprecedented amount of collective grief, especially for the most marginalized communities in our society. And for the least marginalized, it may be the first time experiencing collective grief, meaning steps to healing may be completely unfamiliar or unpracticed.

Read: Benefits of Talking About Grief

So what helps the process of healing collective grief?

1). Public mourning:

As grief is collective, so the healing should be as well. When a tragedy of any nature strikes a community, it impacts not only each individual in their own specific way but the community as a whole. Coming together to mourn and grieve publicly helps to reaffirm those ties to one another. Instead of leaving each member of the community isolated and left to grieve on their own, public mourning and grieving help to link us all back together.

There is healing power in solidarity–and just seeing that your community is united in healing can help you, as an individual, heal from the loss.

2). Community action

Getting involved in your community–even in small ways–can help the collective grieving process. As you work on your own healing, consider the ways in which your community needs to heal. Are there ways you can help and get involved?

You can gather friends and family and volunteer together, or join a local organization or club that is involved in strengthening your community. This connection helps to reaffirm the strength of your community and rebuild something after a great sense of loss.

3). Give yourself space

Collective grief still has different manifestations in individuals. While coming together publicly and finding ways to get involved in your community can help both your individual and collective grieving, you still have your own needs to tend to. Give yourself space to grieve in private.

Explore your own feelings without feeling pressure to perform them for others. Talk to a friend, journal, unpack it with a therapist, etc. Work through the stages of grief, however, they show up for you, to address your individual grief as you navigate community healing.

If you’re feeling grief-stricken, you’re not alone. Our counselors are here to help you process your current situation and find coping mechanisms that work for you. You can also choose to get online counseling if you’re from California, Colorado, and Texas.

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