Grief and Loss in a Time of Global Distress

The importance of creating rituals of kindness

In times of old – you know, back in 2019 – if a family member or other person you loved died, there were predictable paths and social norms to acknowledge grief and loss. These might have been dictated by one’s religion or individual beliefs, but setting aside a specific moment in time to grieve, experience sorrow, and speak of one’s feelings in the presence of community was a way of showing respect for both the living and the dead. Rituals around grief honor the human experience.

But now it’s August of 2020 and the scope of how we interact with grief, loss, sorrow, and fear has changed. The simple act gathering a community for a funeral service poses a potential threat to the health and safety of those gathered to mourn. The impact of this pandemic on our collective psyche is now compounded with the powerful energy and organizing against the long-lived American virus of racism in our culture. This level of acute crises – physical, emotional, political, financial, constitutional, social, personal, spiritual – is affecting each of us and has interrupted the rituals we have come to expect when it comes to processing the most human forms of grief.

The rituals related to being with others after the death of loved ones are paused as we all experience different types of grief on a global scale. The tricky emotional landscape of connecting with personal grief has become exponentially complex as we deal with our own sorrow in the same nanosecond as we witness the sorrow of others.

I’ve had the opportunity to think about this in depth over the past few months. I experienced the death of a family member who died from COVID-19. I have also witnessed the grief of others who are having that same experience of loss. I have had grief dismissed or understandably forgotten by others who are dealing with their own experiences and fear. I have lost focus in trying to be attentive to the sorrow of others. There’s just so much grief – everywhere. In order to be as present for myself and for others as I can be, I’ve been trying to pay attention to these four things each day:

  1. My emotions, needs, and expectations
  2. The displayed emotions and behaviors of others
  3. The context in which I communicate about all of this with others so that I feel like I’m true to the character traits that are most important to me (my core values are curiosity, kindness, joy, and courage)
  4. Witnessing and giving thanks

That short list requires a lot of effort. But it also has a calming effect because it helps me relate to the larger experience of grief by boiling it down to me, others, and the communication between us.

How can we use these four steps to attend to the grief, fear, and disappointment that is everywhere right now? Here’s my suggestion:


Take a minute, an hour, or even just the span of a breath and become aware of your emotions. What do you feel? Try not to judge, just notice. “I feel angry.” “I feel sad.” “I feel hopeful.” “I feel numb.” You might feel all of these things. Just let that sit. It’s ok.

What do you need in this moment? What do you need today? Needing the corona virus or systematic racism to completely vanish is a reasonable need, but try to be more specific to the emotions you just identified: “I need to cry.” “I need to talk with a supportive friend.” “I need to show-up and participate in a protest.” “I need to play music as loudly as I can and dance my ass off!”

If you had your needs met, what are your expectations about or hopes for the outcome? “I expect I’d feel less sad.” “I hope to feel less alone and a little happier.” “I expect to feel alive, in my body, and full of power and joy!”

When you notice your feelings and and your needs, you can help yourself work with them better. And when you can do that, it makes connecting with others easier.


When you connect with others, you can ask them the same questions. Ask, “How do you feel right now? How have you been feeling?” or “How’s your spirit?” Let them respond. Do your best to be attentive and hear what they are saying – no comment is needed. When you ask, really listen for the answer. Being listened to is a deeply satisfying feeling.


Then ask what the other person’s needs are in regard to that feeling. You are not necessarily required to meet that need. In the process of experiencing grief, the simple act of having needs acknowledged can go a long way in making the emotional loads we all carry feel lighter.

If you need something from someone, ask them if they can help you. Make your request specific and clear, “I’m feeling sad right now, and I need to talk with you and boost my spirit. Can you chat with me for a bit?” Sometimes the answer will be no, and that, while disappointing, can be ok. Thank them for being direct, and either ask if there is a time when you could chat, or try connecting with another person. But if you ask for what you need from people who are worthy of the question, the answer will often be yes. Be open to them asking the same of you. Mutuality and reciprocity create compassionate bonds that help us find our ways through the darkness of grief.


Whether you are reflecting on your own emotions and needs or those of others, say thank you. Thank yourself when you acknowledge that this whole experience and the grief we are in is intense. Say thank you when people share of themselves with you. And say thank you for the fact that when we do these four things, we create a powerful grief ritual as old as time: the ritual of compassionately witnessing each other’s humanity.



Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

This post originally appeared on


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