Queen's death highlights power of collective grief: Benefits and how to handle it

The nation is going through a period of collective grief following the Queen's death. (Getty Images)
The nation is going through a period of collective grief following the Queen's death. (Getty Images)

Even before the news was officially announced that the Queen had died, people were gathering outside Balmoral, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle to show support to the Royal Family during the most concerning of times.

But within hours of the official announcement the crowd had swelled to thousands as tearful mourners collectively gathered to grieve the passing of Her Majesty.

From the black cabs who lined up silently on the Mall on Thursday night to pay their respects, to the teenager who shared an emotional hug with Meghan Markle and the thousands of families who came to lay flowers, silently weeping, as they expressed their sadness in the loss of the monarch, there is little doubt the nation is feeling jointly heartbroken right now.

Though many no doubt wanted to be part of a historic moment, for others it was a chance to come together to be with others also feeling the extreme emotional impact of such a significant event.

Many will no doubt be feeling somewhat confused about the strength of their grief for someone they likely hadn't met, others will be seeking solace with people, and to a certain extent validation, that how they are feeling is ok.

There can be many benefits of collective grief. (Getty Images)
There can be many benefits of collective grief. (Getty Images)

What is collective grief?

Of course, this is all a perfectly normal way of processing the death of a hugely important public figure, because what the nation is feeling right now is collective grief.

But what exactly is that and when does it happen?

"Collective grief can occur when a group of individuals, such as a community, a nation, or a specific demographic, all experience an extreme loss or change," explains Lee Chambers, psychologist and wellbeing specialist.

"There are a variety of ways this can occur, from the loss of leaders and public figureheads to war and natural disasters, and we don't have to personally know the individual involved or be directly impacted by conflict or disaster to grieve collectively."

Ultimately, collective grief happens when people are all exposed to the same experience of big, unpredictable change that causes them intense feelings of sadness and loss.

Most recently the COVID-19 pandemic initiated feelings of collective grief, not only for the loss of friends and family, but also for the snatching of our freedom during the various lockdowns and the mourning of life as we knew it pre-pandemic.

Now, the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, who had reigned for over 70 years, seems to be stirring up similar emotions as many people mourn the death of the well-loved figurehead who had been such a constant in their lives.

The nation is collectively mourning the passing of the monarch. (Getty Images)
The nation is collectively mourning the passing of the monarch. (Getty Images)

The benefits of collective grief

Collective grief isn't just lots of people feeling sad about an event, according to Chambers, but more the experience of shared grief with others, the sense we are surrounded by others with similar emotions, even those we don't know.

"This can generate a feeling of belonging, can bring us together and make us feel more connected to our community and the wider ecosystem we live within," he says.

"During these challenging times we face, collective grief can provide communal healing, solidarity in uncertainty and belonging in loss."

Mourning together can also offer a chance to reflect, share hopes and fears and express emotions with a level of support and validation.

The Queen's death has sparked a wave of collective grief. (Getty Images)
The Queen's death has sparked a wave of collective grief. (Getty Images)

According to Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, collective grief can also help people to make feel less alone in their emotions.

"It can also provide feelings of psychological resilience and alleviate some of the negative feelings associated with loss," she adds.

Of course, if we've never experienced personal grief, the collective grief surrounding us at the moment could also help prepare us for times in our own lives when we'll experience a death of someone close to us.

Watch: Royal fan covers house with more than 100 Union Jack flags to mark Queen's death

But while there are clearly many benefits from sharing our grief in a collective way, there are also some things to be aware of right now.

"We must be mindful that collective grief for some can be challenging," explains Chambers. "Not having a direct connection to the subject can lead some to suppress and not feel worthy of grieving with others.

"Others may find the situation amplifies past trauma and therefore face challenges processing their feelings. And for some, the feelings of instability and change may make it difficult for emotions to be explored in a communal way, potentially leading to isolation."

Dr Touroni warns that in very extreme cases collective grief could turn into mass hysteria.

"It’s important to be able to separate your own feelings from the feelings of others," she explains. "While there is something connecting about sharing the same experience, it shouldn’t detract from us from being able to evaluate our own emotional responses.

"It should never come at the expense of our own separateness," she adds.

Collective grief can make people feel less alone in their feelings. (Getty Images)
Collective grief can make people feel less alone in their feelings. (Getty Images)

How to deal with feelings of collective grief

Dr Touroni and Chambers have put together some tips for overcoming collective grief.

Find a way to mark the loss

There are no set rules on how you should do this. Laying flowers, attending a memorial, sharing personal stories are all ways you could help to process your feelings of grief.

"In these times, we should find a release that works for us," Chambers says. "Consider mourning publicly, but be careful of what you consume and give yourself the space you need."

Practice mindfulness

Be mindful of your own emotional experience and what you need in terms of comfort and distraction, Dr Touroni suggests.

Share and communicate with others

But also create limits around how much time you spend being exposed to information about the event.

"Find a balance between engaging with feelings of sadness and also having some limits around it," Dr Touroni adds.

Look forward

While it is important to be reflective, it is also vital to look to the future. "Allow yourself space to process the event but make sure that the rest of your life continues too," Dr Touroni says.

Seek support if need be

If you're struggling with grief, you can contact organisations such as CRUSE, ataloss.org and the The Good Grief Trust which all have advice centres that can help provide support if you need it.

If you need someone to talk to about grief the Samaritans are always there to help and listen. Call 116 123 free, 24/7.

Watch: Remembering the late HM Queen Elizabeth II