Earlier this month, the United States experienced yet another tragic event: the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. For those living in Las Vegas, this tragedy affected them deeply and continues to do so. The rest of the world has also reacted to what happened.
According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Center, the city hosted 3.47 tourists in 2016 alone. People love Las Vegas! Many have relatives who live there. Many do business with companies in the state. When something monumental like this happens, the news spreads around the globe. This means that although 58 individuals lost their lives, the grief experienced has been a collective one.
What Makes Collective Grief Different?
When a loved one passes away from a medical condition, generally grieving is limited to family and friends. Rarely does it make the evening news. With situations involving mass casualties, such as this one, the number of people grieving grows exponentially. The news stations typically carry images and information about the tragedy for days. For those acutely grieving as well as for those who had been at the festival and traumatized, this can be overwhelming. Those further outside the circle of those connected to the tragedy may also experience feelings of shock, fear, sadness, and grief. This can be confusing since they were not at the event and did not know anyone at the event. Collective grief can be vicariously felt as people identify with those affected.
The Bright Side of Collective Grief
Yet, in the midst of this tragedy and dark time for Las Vegas, there were stories of heroes saving lives. In the aftermath, multitudes of people both in Las Vegas and around the world volunteered however they could. They donated blood. They raised money to help the victims. They brought food, sleeping bags, water and other needed items to the first responders, victims, police and medical personnel. This incredible demonstration of humanity shed some light for those struggling.
In the days following the shooting, people attended vigils and created temporary monuments commemorating the victims who had died. They offered free services (e.g., therapy, yoga, massages) for the victims, first responders and personnel involved that night and in the following days. They talked around the dinner table, by the office cooler, and at the coffee shop. They discussed what had happened and what they were feeling. In this way, they started the healing process together. This increased sense of connection was felt with the creation of #VegasStrong and #VegasTogether which are now on countless T-shirts and social media posts.
Positive Grief Movement
Unfortunately, it takes horrific events like this one to bring people together and to start talking about grief. Hopefully, people might begin to decrease the stigma attached to grief with all of the emotional and physical symptoms that go along with it. Having actively practiced how to be good grief supporters, ideally they will remember this when someone they know loses a loved one. Just as they did for Las Vegas, they would do for them by proactively offering needed items, listening to others express what they are experiencing and working together to accomplish what needed to be done.
Words of Warning
One of the many challenges associated with grief is that it is an incredibly long process. The need for grief support will not end this week or the next or the following one. Will people still be willing to make themselves available to the needs of those grieving? Only time will tell.