Understanding Collective War Grief

“It’s like I have two rooms in my heart now. One for my personal grief, and one for everyone’s grief”.


These words, reported by Noam Shuster for independent magazine +972, resonate with us all as we reel in the wake of recent tragedies. Images of the devastation in Gaza and beyond, from the deadly explosion at Al-Ahli hospital and the ongoing air strikes, dominate the 24-hour news cycle. While we may be thousands of miles away from the violence, its public nature leaves us with intense feelings of shock, sadness, anger, frustration, and helplessness. This is collective war grief.


Collective war grief is a profound and shared experience that emerges in the aftermath of war, characterized by the emotional toll of loss, trauma, and devastation. It transcends geographic boundaries and personal involvement; you don't have to be on the frontlines of an armed conflict to feel its impact. Images of senseless destruction, grieving mothers, and wounded children are powerful enough elicit intense emotional responses that may be difficult to deal with. Whether we have personal connections to the conflict or not, we can empathize with the profound suffering experienced by the families and communities embroiled in the turmoil.


Bearing witness to public displays of grief, such as the 2022 funeral procession attended by thousands for prominent journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, tragically shot and killed by Israeli forces, leaves an indelible mark on our collective psyche. In the face of such senseless violence, we often find ourselves overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness, compelled to grapple with the enormity of human suffering and the urgent need for peace.


In bearing witness to current events, we are reminded of the profound losses endured throughout history. This adds another layer to our collective war grief. As we mourn for those lost in conflict, we do so through the lens of a broader historical narrative. We grieve not only for the lives cut short but also for their potential, the opportunities, and the moments stolen by the ravages of war. We grieve for lost chances and lost time, trying to make sense of how our nations have arrived at a point where they are embroiled in such devastation. In collective war grief, we find ourselves in a place where the present intertwines with the anguish of history, compelling us to seek meaning amidst the chaos of war. And, like any other form of grief, collective war grief can consume us if left unprocessed.


Processing collective grief begins with recognizing what we are feeling. If we can recognise it, we can manage it. Takalam offers four suggestions for those in the throes of collective war grief:


  1. Take control of your newsfeed

    The media can fuel fears and anxieties related to external threats or promote a sense of unity and shared identity in the face of adversity. A lot of the time, especially during times of war, it does both. This can cause a mixture of complicated emotions which hinders our ability to process our grief. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try limiting the amount and kind of content you access on a daily basis. This does not mean you have to unplug entirely, but making a conscious decision about how often we will consume news media and what types of media we engage gives us our power back and protects us from psychological harm.


  1. Exert control where you can

    Finding small ways to exercise control throughout the day staves off the insurmountable feelings of powerlessness that come with being affected by war. Look around your life and identity where you have control or choice, even in the smallest of ways, and exercise it. This could be going to bed at a set time to ensure a good night’s sleep, going for a walk during your break at work, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or listening to your favourite song. Small actions go a long way in keeping up a routine, and can help us feel less helpless in the wake of ongoing crises.


  1. Community action

    When grief is collective, healing should be as well. Organizing community action, such as volunteering or holding donation drives, can also help to reaffirm the strength of your community and rebuild after a great sense of loss. You can gather friends and family together to volunteer together, or join a local organisation or club that is involved in strengthening your community. Even during such trying times, comfort can be found through our connection to others with the same lived experience.


  1. Remember you are not obliged to perform

    In the age of social media, we in a unique position to share our thoughts and feelings with the rest of the world. While this is a wonderful tool for self-expression, feeling compelled to share our every opinion endangers our psychological well-being. You may feel pressure from others to stay active and post online in the wake of a tragedy. However, if you are feeling grief-stricken, it’s important to explore your own feelings without the pressure to perform them for others. Journaling, speaking to a close friend or family member, or seeing a counselor can help you unpack your feelings in a healthy, non-judgemental environment.


If you are experiencing war grief, remember that you are not alone. Our counselors are here to help you process your current situation and find coping mechanisms that work for you. Our TakalamCares initiative provides free psychological aid for those impacted by the tragic events of war. If you or someone you know needs support, you can register for TakalamCares, reach out to one of our certified counselors, or contact the team at info@takalam.ae for any further assistance.