Collective Grief and the Grieving Process

by 26Health Staff

Trauma and loss collided for many in the LGBTQ+ community on June 12, 2016, when the Pulse nightclub shooting occurred. This instance of mass violence unleashed a wave of public emotions. These ranged from anger and sadness to feelings of numbness, which is often associated with shock and trauma. In the years that have followed, we have been continually reminded of the fragility of life and have entered into a collective process of grief as a community. Even now, more than four years later, we are still grieving this tragedy.

Collective Grief Does Lead to a Shared Grieving Process

Collective grief or mass grief is distinct from personal grief because it stems from a shared experience, and yet, the grieving process is completely unique to each person. As we learned of the 49 innocent lives taken from our community, the process of public mourning began. It quickly took the form of 24-hour TV coverage, blood donation lines that wrapped around blocks, candlelight vigils, public memorial services, the placement of rainbow flags throughout the community, monetary donations, and social media hashtags; all of which fostered social connections among people who desperately needed it and helped to move the community towards healing.

The collective grieving process is unique because we experience the emotional and physical symptoms of grief without necessarily having shared a close personal relationship with the deceased. Regardless of our level of connection to the deceased, we experienced the pain associated with the loss in our community.

This process is further complicated by our natural human instincts to empathize and make connections. These instincts make us hyper-aware of our own mortality and also the mortality of our loved ones. This hyperawareness, coupled with the violence surrounding events like the Pulse massacre and the news of other more recent acts of violence, evokes a secondary traumatic response in many of us.

The Proper Way To Grieve?

In the years since Pulse, I have heard many people expressing their struggle with the idea that they are not in the right place in their grieving process, wondering, “What is grief?” and asking, “How should I go about grieving?” or even, “Am I grieving correctly?”

Without even knowing you, I can say with total certainty, “Yes, you are grieving correctly.” The fact is, there is no textbook or checklist for grief and grieving. There is no one best way to grieve appropriately.

It is vital we accept that grief is a uniquely private experience and that grieving looks different for every person. It happens gradually, changing from day to day, and should not be hurried. In the wake of tragedies like Pulse, we must have grace and accept that in order to heal. We must be present in our emotions and be patient and kind with ourselves and with each other. With time, our grief will ease, and we will adapt to the new reality in which we find ourselves.

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