Collective Grief

Much has been written about collective grief, especially recently regarding the pandemic. With the addition of everyday shootings and coverage of the war in Ukraine, our collective grief has got to be compounded. There’s no way to escape seeing and hearing about the multitudes of deaths occurring daily. I think there’s a tangible feeling of fear and loss in the air.

Grief is an emotion all of us will deal with sometime. More accurately, many times. Nobody gets through this lifetime unscathed. All grief is not the same but I think it’s fair to say it’s never a pleasant experience. In my psychotherapy practice I’ve helped many clients deal with loss. Loss of family members, friends, jobs, boyfriends, etc. I’ve said many times in talking about my practice, that it’s often loss, or grief, that propels people to get into therapy.

Personally, I’ve dealt with several losses over the last several years. I’ve lost my mother, two aunts, an uncle, a dear friend, and my sweet little poodle, Claire Bear. Overall, I’ve been doing alright. However, this past week I’ve been feeling a low-grade sense of grief. I was reminded that we can feel loss through events other than death. We can grieve when we feel a relationship change, when we feel someone pull away or we recognize that a relationship isn’t the way it used to be or the way we’d like it to be. We can feel loss when we make a significant transition in life such as a new job or a new living situation. Even though these changes may be for the better, we can still mourn what we had or what was. There was a popular book decades ago (the name escapes me) where the author talked about the many losses we experience daily. My memory is that he called some of them mini-losses and they could be as small as a missed phone call. That was before social media. I was at a psychoanalytic conference ten years ago where one of the speakers talked about mini-losses (or maybe mini-abandonments but the point’s the same) we experience with social media such as when someone doesn’t respond to a text or an email or getting “ghosted.” These are all ways of experiencing grief to different degrees and can add to the collective grief.

Grief can be an ongoing process and we may think we’re done grieving a particular loss and then out of the blue we feel a wave of grief. Last night we drove by a place that we drive by frequently. It’s a place that holds memories for me of my mother and of Claire and usually I’m fine. Last night when we drove by, I was hit with a wave of grief and it surprised me. I rode the wave, as they say to do, rather than fighting it or denying it. I just felt the feelings and they passed. I’m grateful those waves don’t come as often as they used to but I was reminded that they still can come.

If you’re feeling sad or like something’s just a little amiss, you may be feeling grief. It doesn’t serve you or anyone else to minimize or compare your grief to anyone else’s or to say, “I shouldn’t feel this way, I don’t have it as bad as so and so.” Instead, acknowledge your feelings and deal with them whether by seeking out a therapist, talking to a friend, journaling, or reading one of the many self-help books on grief. And by all means, turn off the television if the news is too much for you to bear. Honor your feelings and your own grief process. There is no escaping loss and grief in this life we live nor are there shortcuts. Feel the feelings. Love yourself through them and be open to all the love and healing flowing your way. Connect, but only with those whom you feel good being around. You will move through the grief.

At the risk of wrapping this up in a neat bow, I do want to point out that although we may not be able to feel it or know it while we’re going through acute grief, even though our hearts may feel empty after loss, new beautiful things can eventually grow in those tender spaces. New people appear in our lives, new relationships, opportunities, experiences. I’ve had many new and wonderful things enter my life after the losses I mentioned above. I’m certain my loved ones I’ve grieved would want that for me. Heck, maybe they’ve had a hand in it!

Here is a repost of an article from the Harvard Business Review written near the beginning of the pandemic. I think it’s still relevant. That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief

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