02 Apr 2019


There are many types of grief. Grief exists on a continuous scale or sort of continuum. And grief is present every time we experience loss.

On the low end of the continuum there are little losses that have minimal impact on our lives beyond the occasional wistful longing for something that is no more. On the high end of the continuum there are major losses that are so complex and woven into so many parts of who we are that they take years to unravel and understand. In some case, understanding never comes: in others, only acceptance.

There is a general consensus that grieving the loss of one’s life partner is different from grieving the loss of one’s parent. I have met no one who believes that grieving the loss of one’s child isn’t the hardest type of grief. There is also grieving the loss of one’s health, the loss of one’s career, the loss of a beloved pet. There is loss and therefore grief when we move away from our friends. And there is even grief when a favourite book is lost and no longer in print, or when a piece of jewelry gifted by someone no longer with us cannot be found, or a special vase is accidentally dropped and shattered. Each of these losses resides somewhere on the grief continuum. Each marks our hearts in different ways. All of them are personal.

There is another type of loss. There is also communal loss. Communal loss occurs when many people (a community of people) experience a shared loss. Similar to personal loss, it too exists on a continuum. The degree of grief one experiences with a communal loss is dependent on the level of connection between the individual and the loss. In other words, at the high of the continuum of communal grief are those individuals and groups most directly impacted by the loss. Those with a looser or less clear connection to the event (loss) but still impacted, experience communal grief on the low end of the continuum. Because we are uncomfortable with talking about personal grief, we haven’t even begun to acknowledge the existence and impact of communal grief. We need to find a way to do this.

The recent shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand is only the latest of a string of communal losses we’ve experienced for too long. Collectively, we grieve with the Muslim community in Christchurch as we did with the Muslim community in Montreal. We grieved with the families who lost loved ones in the Berlin Christmas Market and The Stade de France in Paris. Each time another of these attacks takes place we grieve. Our communal losses are now too numerous for me to list here. We grieve because we are fully aware that those who died were, like you and I, just going about their everyday business.

We do not grieve directly for those we have never met. Our grief is not on the high end of the continuum. But, we do grieve collectively none the less because we recognize ourselves in those who have died and therefore, we also recognize these acts of violence as acts of violence against our own everyday lives. This pains us and it needs to outrage us.

Though geographically random, these events are connected in that they are committed by individuals consumed by extreme hate; a hate that allows them to believe their actions are rational and noble. It is a hate that gives birth to the possibility of more and more of these events in our not too distant future if something does not change.

The days for global initiatives that counter the creation of this hate must now take place. They must become a priority. We must not accept these occurrences as the norm; a part of everyday life. Practical solutions on many levels are necessary. I commend New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her refusing to speak the name of the man responsible for the Christchurch shooting. I commend the New Zealand government for tightening the country’s gun laws. It’s a start.

Not taking action is not a solution. This is a complex problem and there will be failures along the way. But we must offer up and implement alternative methods for addressing this pandemonium and preventing its escalation if we are to change the current global context: a context in which these terrorist attacks continue to occur – a context that is causing us all to grieve.

Acknowledging our communal grief is the first step. Collectively we must also consciously choose to not look the other way when we see the presence of hate and anger. This is something all of us can do and I believe it will create change. It is time for us to ask the question why does this exist, even if we do not like the answers we are given. If we do not acknowledge the causes of another’s anger we will not be able to work towards alleviating it. When we do this we do it for our own communities as well as for ourselves. The days of naively believing this could never happen in our own backyards is over.

The phrases “there but by the grace of God go I” and “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee” pretty much sums up the position we find ourselves in today. This could happen to any of us – it is happening to all of us. It’s time to do more. Speak up. Step up. Care.

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