Collective Grief - Why Does it Hit so Hard?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Find yourself surprisingly moved at the news that the Queen has passed? Hit hard by the wave of national mourning? You are not alone.

When national mourning leads to collective grief

It was obviously in the cards, and you never met the Queen, or might not even be a Royalist… and yet here you are, experiencing feelings of grief and bereavement.

Why might we suddenly find ourselves shedding a tear in public for someone we perhaps respected, but didn't think that much about?

1. We've been given a permission slip to be emotional.

On a regular day, most of us don't tend to be sad or weepy in public.

But group mourning creates a higher acceptance for such emotional states that can effectively work like a permission slip to our unconscious. When we see others all around us showing their grief, it can open us up to experience feelings we might not have felt comfortable sharing otherwise.

2. We might be mourning the loss of a mother or grandmother we never had.

The Queen represents a stable female presence, the archetype of the reliable mother and grandmother. If we did not have such a figure in our childhood, we might also deep down be mourning the loss of the mother or grandmother we never had.

3. We've lost a stability we didn’t know we relied on.

Whether we are a monarchist or not, the Queen was a part of the fabric of our lives, a sort of background stability we didn’t realise we counted on.

Part of our feelings of loss can be related to the anxiety of the unknown once such a reliable thing is taken away.

4. Personal losses are being triggered.

Research shows that national grieving can blend into personal grieving. A small but interesting study after the death of a King of Thailand who was seen as a father figure analysed art work of grieving citizens. It concluded that national grieving "melted into personal loss".

If there are other losses in our past we never took the time to grieve, or were ashamed to be upset about or to acknowledge? A public window of sadness might draw repressed feelings to the surface.

5. We are being affected by the thoughts of others.

Grief is not 'catching'. But we can be more susceptible to other people's viewpoints when mourning a celebrity. Research found that 'introjection', taking on other people's ideas, is a common part of processing the loss of someone distant but famous.

The positives of national mourning

Again, collective grief creates a window of social acceptance for sadness and feelings of loss. If we struggle to show our feelings or tend to repress them, this might be a time we finally allow ourselves to let go of them, without feeling judged or indeed judging ourselves.

And it creates a sense of belonging that might have been sorely missing for some of us. Particularly if the pandemic left us with damaged friendships, or new realisations of the flimsiness of our social connections.

I can’t stop crying, is there something wrong?

Group grieving can also, on the other hand, leave some of us too triggered. It can come too soon on the heels of another loss, or be that final thing we just can’t handle after many other recent difficult experiences.

This doesn’t even necessarily look like crying. It can also look like sudden mood swings, or being very angry at people who are sad when they haven’t had any recent trauma like you have.

If the national outpouring of grief is upsetting you more than it should, consider:

The power of support in the face of grief

And of course don’t overlook proper support, particularly if the mass outpouring of grief has triggered personal grief over a loss of a loved one. This can happen even if the loss was several years ago. Grief is not a straight line, and can come and go across the years.

Consider a grief support group, or working with a grief counsellor who can create a safe space for you to process and heal.

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