Mourning in the Age of Mass Tragedies

It seems like nowadays every time we turn on the news, there is a story of mass tragedy and chaos waiting to grab our attention. And our news cycle does not begin and end with the 6 o’clock news anymore. Every time we check our phones, there is another alert – a hurricane has hit the southern coast, a shooting in Las Vegas, fires in California…the list goes on and on. And then, just as we begin to wrap our heads around it, the story vanishes and we are left discombobulated, and sometimes, grief-stricken. Odds are you will not have personally know anyone who was affected.

So why do you find yourself feeling a sense of loss and mourning? What can you do about it? And, how will you handle the next news cycle with another story of a devastating loss of life?

In the age of mass tragedies, what you may be experiencing is a type of community mourning. You empathize with the victims, and grieve the seemingly senseless nature of their deaths. Some people will even picture themselves in a similar situation, finding their grief magnified by picturing the final moments before the deaths occurred. Further personalization may occur if you had ties to the community or event where the tragedy occurred – perhaps you’d visited the location in the past, or attended a concert by the same performer that was there when the bomb exploded.

There may even be anger – if the residents of a community were warned that a natural disaster was coming, why would they have stayed? If it was a violent crime, what would have caused the perpetrator to act in such a way? Or, you may be concerned because you do not feel a sense of grief or loss, and question why you are not feeling those emotions, particularly if people around you are exhibiting them.

All of these reactions are perfectly normal. Just because you did not know these people personally does not mean you cannot mourn the loss of their potential in the world. And if you find yourself concerned because you do not feel these emotions, cut yourself some slack. Not everyone reacts to death in the same way. You should not be made to feel guilty if you are processing an event in a way that is different from those around you.


However, if you are struggling with your feelings of grief, one of the best things to do is to check in with your family and friends. Most likely they are having similar feelings, and talking about them will help validate them. Perhaps you suddenly feel wary of large crowds (concert venues, churches, etc.), or are questioning if you really want to go on vacation to an area known for tornados or mudslides. Discussing and assessing risks together can help make some sense of your feelings. If you do find yourself becoming overwhelmed or fixated on a specific event, seriously consider turning off your devices and “unplugging” from the news cycle for a while.

Community mourning is a healthy part of society. You are demonstrating your compassion and sympathy for those who have experienced a horrible and traumatic loss. You are also mourning the loss of potential to your community and country from those who died. You imagine yourself in the moment of crisis and wonder if you too would have died. Remember that grief is a normal part of life, and even mourning for strangers is nothing to be concerned about. However, if you feel prolonged sadness or find that you have an inability to function in your typical fashion, considered speaking with a professional to further explore your feelings.