Although we tend to think of “grief” as an isolated response to a single event, it may be more accurate to say that it’s a constant thread that weaves through the fabric of our lives.
There are seasons of life where the thread is more noticeable, such as after the death of a loved one. Yet it’s still there even when we can’t name it or pick it out of the pattern, like when we lose a job or a relationship.
The same can be said of our collective grief– the grief that we see in the world and that we experience together.
Between increased suicides, lives lost throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and the loss of our former way of life, there has been a significant increase in the expression of collective grief in past few years.
Like squares in a quilt, we all have our own threads of individual grief and we are connected to each other by those threads of global grief.
That connection has the potential to compound our individual grief.
World Events Can Compound Individual Grief
When you’re grieving an individual loss, news of tragedy in the world can add to it. If the event is related to the loss that you’re experiencing, it can be a loud reminder of something that you’re actively trying to work through.
Even when the tragic news is not related to the loss you’re going through, the experiences can feel stitched together, so that every news update brings on feelings like “this is as sad as what I’m experiencing,” and brings your pain to the surface.
On the flip side of this, news of tragic world events can contribute to the false and dangerous idea that we don’t have the right to grieve and experience our sadness because there is so much grief in the world.
In his book, The Evil Hours, journalist and veteran, David J Morris, describes it like this:
“One of the deceptive things about trauma is that it is usually pretty easy to find someone who has been through something even more awful than what you’ve been through and thus dismiss your own pain, needlessly prolonging the process. It’s easy to find people to place at the top of the pyramid of loss…but what about all that space below them? Who goes there? Who decides?”
When we’re dealing with a loss that is directly connected to a global event, we can fall into the “imposter syndrome” trap.
When the pandemic initially caused a spike in anxiety and depression, did you count yourself as one who was affected by it or did you feel like you were reading about something that was happening to “someone else” or “other people”?
There are many reasons why it can be difficult to see ourselves and our own pain in reported numbers.
It’s important that we continue to try to see ourselves, count ourselves, and have the same empathy and compassion for ourselves as we might have for those “other people” being affected by the very same events that we are.
How Do We Move Through This?
We have to first acknowledge our individual losses and the validity of our own pain before we can start to unpack the effects that world events have on us.
Only after this can we begin to put the two pieces together and identify exactly how these world events are affecting our experiences of grief– is it bringing our pain up or shoving it down?
If there is any comfort to be found in the wake of tragic world events, it’s in the feelings of community and the opportunity for support.
We cannot ignore the threads of grief out of our collective lives, but we can express our grief together, support one another, stitch all of us quilt squares together, and be all the stronger and warmer for it.
Photo credit: Lukas Rychvalsky, via pexels