• Jonathan Cresson

Cultivating Resilience: A conversation around collective grief during COVID-19

Updated: May 7, 2020

Close up of holding hands
Though we may not be able to hold hands with those we love, we can find other ways to process grief.

Collective Grief

It is safe to say that many of us, if not all of us, have been experiencing different levels of emotions surrounding Covid-19, most commonly anxiety. Many of the topics and techniques we will be discussing during this Cultivating Resilience series will help us manage our shared anxiety around the pandemic. Another collective feeling and experience many of us are having, but not as talked about, is a collective loss or collective grief.

Collective grief is grief that is felt by a community, society, nation, or in some cases the world in the wake of an event such as a war, natural disaster, or what we are experiencing now with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therapist Lori Gottlieb explores the concept of collective grief in her New York Times article, "Grieving the Losses of Coronavirus." She acknowledges that some people are experiencing tremendous loss as a result of this pandemic: loss of life, loss of loved ones, loss of health, loss of jobs and income. But many of us are also experiencing less obvious losses that also affect our emotional health. We are grieving the losses of birthday parties, graduations, family reunions, weddings, sporting events, concerts, and the ability to just buy toilet paper or even get a haircut as normal.

As a therapist, Lori always says that there’s no hierarchy of pain — pain is pain. Suffering shouldn’t be ranked, because pain is not a contest. There is also no hierarchy of grief. When we validate some and minimize others, many people are left alone to grieve. It’s hard to talk about these silent losses because we fear that other people will find them insignificant and either dismiss them or expect us to “get over them” relatively quickly.

Let's explore some basic ways Lori describes to help navigate through our losses.

1. Acknowledge the grief

  • Grieving requires us to sit with our pain, to feel a kind of sadness that makes many of us so uncomfortable that we try to get rid of it.

  • We tend to mistake feeling less for feeling better, but it helps to remember that the feelings are still there — they’ll just come out in other ways: in an inability to sit still, in being short-tempered, in a lack of appetite or a struggle to control one’s appetite, in an inability to concentrate or sleep.

  • The more we can say to ourselves and the people around us, “Yes, these are meaningful losses,” the more seen and soothed we will feel.

2. Try to stay in the present

  • With COVID-19, on top of the tangible losses, there’s the uncertainty about how long this will last and what will happen next that leaves us mourning our current losses as well as ones we haven’t experienced yet. This can leave us in a state of ongoing mourning.

  • It’s important for us to stay grounded in the present. Instead of thinking about losses that haven’t happened yet (and may never happen), we can try and focus on the present by adopting a concept called “both/and.” Both/and means that we can feel loss in the present and also feel safe exactly where we are — snuggled up with a good book, eating lunch with our kids who are home from school, taking a walk with a family member, and even celebrating a birthday via Zoom or FaceTime.

  • We may have lost our sense of normalcy, but we can still stay present for the ordinary right in front of us.

3. Let people experience loss in their own way

  • Although loss is universal, the ways in which we grieve are deeply personal.

  • There’s no one-size-fits-all for grief. Even the familiar stages of grieving — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — aren’t meant to be linear. Everyone moves through loss in a unique way, so it’s important to let people do their grieving in whatever way works for them without diminishing their losses or pressuring them to grieve the way you are. A good rule of thumb: you do you (and let others do them).

4. Reach out to Human Resources

If you are a Relay employee, the HR Team is available if you need to talk to someone or need help with finding professional resources.


Another way to help us decrease anxiety, navigate our losses, and build resilience is to practice daily mindfulness activities that work for you. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment.

Square Breathing

This is a simple mindfulness technique that you can do anywhere in any situation. Each breath has 4 parts that last 4 seconds each:

  1. the pause before you breathe in

  2. the breath in

  3. the pause before you breathe out

  4. and the breath out

Looking for more? Check out Lori Gottlieb's full New York Times article, "Grieving the Losses of Coronavirus"


Cultivating Resilience is a twice-weekly video conference series curated by Relay Resources Learning & Development Manager, Jonathan Cresson. The series was started during COVID-19 to allow employees time to share and provide them with a new tool or technique to help focus on resilience while managing the emotions they may be feeling. This blog series captures the topics covered.

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