Collective loss and anticipatory loss are both key factors in our lives due to the affects of COVID. For those experiencing loss during this time, it is important to recognise these forms of losses and to know what to do next.
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Very rarely throughout history has grief and loss been so frequently at the forefront of our news articles and daily life. COVID-19 has changed that. Across the world, countries are experiencing a massive grief pandemic in the wake of sudden and unpredictable loss due to the virus. This sudden wave has placed more pressure on our mental health care systems and resources, meaning those needing urgent care may have to wait weeks or months until they are seen by an expert.
For a person experiencing loss due to the virus or during the viruses timeline, grief and bereavement have overpowered many media outlets, overwhelming the emotionally vulnerable through consistent reminders of death.
This global level of bereavement comes under the label of collective loss. Usually felt by people who have experienced natural disasters or large-scale traumatic events, collective loss occurs when a significant amount of people all experience grief due to sudden change. In this instance, the sudden change was the arrival of COVID-19.
People experiencing collective loss can often feel isolated in their grief as they are surrounded by daily updates commenting on the sudden change that leave many feeling exhausted and emotionally low. This has been partnered with death toll stats that can bring the acceptance stage of grief into a person’s life before the person is emotionally ready to accept the loss.
When such an event occurs, mental health can deteriorate and those grieving may avoid social interaction and the outdoors completely as a way to cope with their overwhelming sense of loss. It is important to understand that the grieving process is personal and cannot be rushed due to external factors. Grief is an intimate emotion that should be approach in a way the the griever feels ready and comfortable to address, and eventually accept the loss.
If you or someone you know is experiencing this type of reaction to loss, is it important that these people set up a conversational line or network, which helps them or you process through your grief in your own time, talking to people you/they trust.
As collective grief is felt worldwide, anticipatory grief often follows. The Grief Recovery Centre defines anticipatory grief as “[a] feeling we get when we are–in a way–preemptively mourning and grieving.”
Grief is commonly an emotion we relate to an after-death experience, anticipatory death, however, occurs before the loss has happened. Those with loved ones who have a terminal illness frequently experience anticipatory grief as they prepare for a potentially inevitable bereavement. The pandemic has skyrocketed instances of anticipatory grief as those with older loved ones or possibility vulnerable loved ones become expectant of worst-case scenarios.
Anticipatory grief is slightly unique in the way is occurs as those experiencing it can go through frequent conflicting emotions which bounce between holding onto hope that the loved one will not pass and accepting the loved one’s death. These conflicting emotions can be incredibly exhausting, especially as circumstances such as level of health change and fluctuate.
A person experiencing anticipatory grief or collective grief have a large scale of emotions they could possibly feel including shame, anger, depression, anxiety, hopefulness and panic.
What can we do?
One of the positive aspects of collective grief is that there are a large number of people the grieving person can talk to who personally understand the loss. Joining specific communities and organising/attending public grieving sessions can both help and share in the grieving process, easing the pressure to withhold your internal grief due to external misunderstanding from those who are not personally experiencing the grief with you.
Communication and community are two important means of support that help those grieving can lean on during, collective grief, anticipatory grief and during ofter forms of grief.
There is no ‘normal’ or right way to grieve. You must choose a way and speed that suits you, regardless of how others are grieving. Sometimes it can take time to find the right tools, but no one has ever succeeded at anything perfectly the first time. You are allow to make mistakes and take steps backwards. What’s important is that you recognise these motions and can plan your next steps with a more experienced mind.
Visit our Helpful Websites page for links to helplines and other centres. There’s no shame in asking for help.