Trauma and loss collided for many in the community as this episode of mass violence unleashing a wave of public emotions ranging from common emotions like anger and sadness; to feelings of numbness, which are often associated with shock and trauma. In the weeks that have followed the Pulse massacre, we have been continually reminded of the fragility of life and as a community, have entered into a collective process of grief.
Collective grief or mass grief is distinct because it stems from a shared circumstance, yet, the experience is completely unique and individualized for each person. As we learned of the 49 innocent lives taken from our community, the process of public mourning began. It quickly began taking the form of 24-hour TV coverage, blood donation lines that wrapped around blocks, the candlelight vigils, the public memorial services, the placement of rainbow flags throughout the community, monetary donations and hashtags spread through social media; all which fostered social connection among people who vitally needed it and helped move the community towards healing.
During collective grief process we experience the emotional and physical symptoms of grief without necessarily having shared a close personal relationship with the deceased. Regardless of our level of connection to the deceased, we are commanded by our hearts and the physical manifestations of grief to remain present and experience the pain associated with the loss in our community. This process is further complicated because our natural human instinct to empathize and reach for connection also makes us hyperaware of our own mortality and the mortality of our loved ones. This hyperawareness, coupled with the violence surrounding the events of the pulse massacre and the news of other recent acts of violence has evoked a secondary traumatic response for many.
In the weeks since Pulse, I have heard many people expressing their struggle with the idea that that they are not in the right place in their grief process, questioning; what grief is, how they should go about grieving and frequently asking themselves, “Am I grieving correctly?” Then one day, I was reading through my social media feeds and came across a quote from Patton Oswalt, which I believe perfectly described the confusion, longing and loss experienced early in the grief process:
“102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have shit to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel ‘wiser.’ You will not have ‘closure.’ You will not have ‘perspective’ or ‘resilience’ or ‘a new sense of self.’ You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe.”
I think it is important for us to accept that grief is a very individualized and personal experience, which happens gradually and should not be hurried. In the wake of Pulse, we must have grace and accept that in order to heal we must be present in our emotions and be patient and kind with ourselves and each other.