Collective Grief

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When We Grieve Together

Right after Brian died, I signed up to be part of a 6-week course by David Kessler that specifically dealt with losing a spouse. There was a charge for it, but it met for an hour twice a week, which because I work with my personal therapist once a week, I know the cost for good counseling time. David Kessler is a well-respected psychologist who co-authored the book “Finding Meaning” with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (author of the famous book “Five Stages of Grief.”) I still am part of a group that he runs which meets several times weekly. Today I received this email in wake of the school shooting in Texas. I thought it was well worth sharing, as I know that all of us are working through collective grief over this tragic and senseless event:

Collectively, our hearts are broken. We turn on the news to see grief everywhere. War. Recovering from a pandemic. Injustice. And now more shootings. Collective grief is powerful but it’s not new. We grieve together as a society when tragedy strikes, or natural disasters hit, when someone who made an impact on our lives dies, and when innocent lives are taken as they were this week.

Ask anyone over 55 where they were when John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King died. So many of us can’t see a clear blue September morning without thinking of 9/11 and imagining the smoke of the towers.

In times like these, we grieve for the victims and for their families. We also grieve for the way we wish things were. We want to live in a world where people can safely go to the grocery store, send their children to school, and feel safe in our communities. The heaviness in the news can often compound our own feelings of grief for the personal losses that we are dealing with. Those of us who have experienced grief know its long shadow.

People ask us how we can support each other as we grieve collectively. I would like to share these tips and I hope that you will find them helpful.

  • Express your grief and listen to those around you as they express theirs.
  • Remember, we all grieve differently. Not everyone experiences collective grief with the same intensity. 
  • Engage with others, even if only online. The antidote to isolation is community.
  • Think local. The communities that are affected directly have resources nearby in the short term. What can you do in your home, neighborhood, and town?
  • Think small. Sometimes a hug can mean everything at times like these. Bake cookies. Pick flowers. Say hello to your neighbors. Call a friend.
  • Self-care. How are you taking care of yourself?
  • Take media breaks. The news can be overwhelming. Get outside. Move your body. Take a deep breath. 
  • Finding meaning can take the form of taking an action to prevent tragedies in the future.

Thank you for taking care of yourself.


David Kessler

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