January 26th marks the one-year anniversary of the tragic passing of basketball icon Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna Bryant, and the seven other victims whose lives were lost in the helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. As we approach the anniversary of this tragedy, it’s an ideal time to discuss collective grief. We faced a great deal of it in the last year.
“I define collective grief as when it’s like a group of people or a large community is all grieving the same exact loss. You may not react the same way but you all are grieving something,” licensed clinical social worker, Marline Francois-Madden, told MadameNoire. “Something happened that impacted a large group of people. If you think about it, yes, Kobe’s loss was one of them, and then, in the midst of that happening, then we got hit with multiple collective grief events: pandemic, Chadwick Boseman, George Floyd. We’ve been grieving collectively for at least the last year.”
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to witness grief shaming on social media — especially when celebrity deaths trigger strong emotional reactions from fans.
“That’s the sad part when people start shaming others for grieving the loss of a celebrity that they haven’t met. What people don’t realize is that when there’s a loss — a celebrity, someone who’s a public figure — it’s everywhere,” she explained. “It’s not in your control as far as how much you consume of it. You go on social media, you put on the news, other people around you, people are sharing articles, outlets are sharing more details. So it’s a lot that’s happening all at once and you’re seeing other people also grieve and you’re also grieving, too. I want people to know that it’s okay to grieve and feel the loss of someone they haven’t met.”
When it comes to the passing of public figures, Francois-Madden explains that it’s also important to remember that people don’t only grieve the physical loss of that person, but also the connections made to that figure.
“There are other people around who are going to judge you and say, ‘Oh, well you don’t know this person so why are you even crying?’ I want people to give more grace to the people who are grieving the loss of a celebrity because it’s not just the loss of the celebrity that people are grieving. You’re also grieving the experience and the memories you have with that figure,” she explained.
It’s also important to remember how children may be affected by these tragedies.
“For example, with Chadwick, a lot of children were also grieving. They did go see Black Panther. They were like, ‘Wow, a superhero looks like me,'” she said. “Give your kids a chance to grieve as well. Let them know it’s okay to go ahead and cry because, for them, that’s their real-life superhero that they just lost.”
Here are some other ways to handle collective grief:
Talk about it
“Talk to someone and let them know how you feel. Maybe a therapist. But also, check to see if that grief that you’re experiencing at that moment is bringing back previous losses that you’ve experienced,” said the New Jersey-based therapist.
Be in tune with your body
“I always tell people, ‘Check your body.’ You wanna assess your body to see if your body’s showing any signs of tension or stress anywhere because that’s a clear indication that you’re under high stress at that moment,” she advised. “So you’re gonna have to find some strategies to decompress.”