Tropical storms, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, mass shootings and terrorist attacks seem to be happening so often that just when we start grieving the loss of victims from one disaster, another tragedy takes place. How do we process so much collective loss when, even though we may not personally know the victims, we feel affected by their deaths? How do we mourn for strangers, whether the victims of natural disasters or violent acts, and what do we do with our grief?
The Compassion that Follows Collective Tragedies
Collective tragedies can often bring out the best in people. No one will ever forget (#neverforget) the outpouring of compassion and the volunteer efforts after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the recent senseless bloodshed in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas—where people sacrificed themselves to protect loved ones, carried the wounded to safety and donated blood—that showed that the country, divided as it may be, can pull together and become unified in times of tragedy.
“Grief weaves deep threads into the intricate tapestry of our lives that is essential to our individual and collective being,” says Andrea Deerheart, PhD, founder of The HeartWay, a nonprofit that offers end-of-life services and grief counseling to help create a safe place for feelings to be expressed and explored before, during and after the loss of loved ones. “Death, suffering, pain and grief are often not to be seen, heard or spoken about, which leaves us void of a collective language to express the horrific realities that often surround death. Grief is not an emotion that can be eradicated from our life experience. Like death—grief inspires life. Our fears and sense of powerlessness becomes emotionally triggered in the wake of such relentless tragedy and yet we can cultivate our grief to facilitate healing.”
5 Ways to Cope
1. Take a break from the news.
Turn off the TV and unhook from social media for a few days. During that time, gather friends and family and reflect on what you are grateful for. “Beneath the illusion of separation, humanity is one family,” writes Robert Atkinson, PhD, author of The Story of Our Time: From Duality to Interconnectedness to Oneness. “A global community with a consciousness of oneness is emerging. Don’t be distracted by seeming setbacks; hope is our inspiration, love our unifying force, and unity our ultimate destination. How we get there depends upon the stories we live by, and the action we take.” (For more from Atkinson, read his article, The Dark Night of the Collective Soul.)
2. Engage in healthy activities.
In response to her clients wanting to know how to grieve, Christina G. Hibbert, a clinical psychologist who specializes in grief and loss and the author of the memoir This Is How We Grow, created this anagram: TEARS. “It stands for Talking, Exercise or physical activity, Artistic expression, Recording and writing about emotions, and Sobbing, crying and just letting it out. I created this effective method to help us know what we can do with our grief, pain, and other tough emotions. Choose one and you’ll see how effective it can be to do something productive with the emotions that are begging to come out.”
3. Take a yoga class.
In Yoga for Grief and Loss, Karla Helbert writes that the experience of grief “tops of the list of things that contribute to our forgetting” of our essential oneness, and “yoga helps us remember.” Yoga, she writes “helps us to remember that we were never separate and can never be separate from ourselves, from our loved ones, from all of humanity, from our planet, from Spirit, or from God.… Just as grief is an experience that affects us physically, mentally, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually, yoga sustains and strengthens us in all of those same areas. Where grief can separate and destroy, yoga unifies and creates.”
4. Use essential oils.
From drinking chamomile tea to inhaling lavender aromatherapy, herbal remedies can help calm a troubled mind. Place essential oils under your pillow at night to help you sleep and ward off bad dreams, or use an aromatherapy eye pillow.
5. Donate and/or volunteer your time.
If a disaster has struck in your community, help feed the hungry, donate blood, collect small toiletries or toys for a shelter, or donate items to a local food bank. You can volunteer at an animal shelter or a disaster relief agency. If a tragedy has occurred outside your community, making a donation or helping to raise money for an organization can relieve feelings of helplessness. “The ability to make even the smallest impact will help us to grieve, cope, and empower ourselves and our communities to heal,” says Deerheart.
Looking for more ways to get through grief? Check out our remastered recordings of Bodhi Talks given by authors, healers, philosophers, teachers and scientists at the original Bodhi Tree Bookstore. Explore now here!