• Venessa Paech

Processing grief in your community

A grieving ceremony could be an opportunity for your team or your community members to mark the conclusion of 2020, learn from each other's experiences, and ready themselves for a new year of challenge and possibility.

2020 has been rough and many have barely had a chance to process it, let alone grieve the losses they and their loved ones have endured.

Researchers have shown that rituals help humans move through tough times and along a journey of healing. Rituals are also a critical component of community building, bringing members together to promote self-disclosure and belonging, no matter the topic of the community. Why they work isn't fully understood, but scientists agree they do.

It's important we give ourselves permission to mourn loss of all kinds - jobs, relationships, opportunities and connection, people in our life who have been ill, or those who have left us. Without the time, space and social affordance of grief, we become disenfranchised, and longer lasting issues can emerge. Trauma and grief lives in bodies as well as hearts and minds.

In 2020, we all lost a way of life we were accustomed to - and many lost far more. The effects are ongoing. As this impactful year comes to a close, consider how you can support your community through a grief ritual.

How can you unite them, and create time, space and permission to process loss collectively? How can a ritual offer a chance to reconnect and realign with your core purpose or reason for gathering?

Working through loss and grief amongst peers fights isolation, normalises what people are feeling, and offers an outlet for expression they may lack in other areas of their life.

The pandemic and its effects will persist in 2021 and beyond. For many, loss and grief is now an ongoing layer to life. How can you hold digital space for memorialising losses, honouring the lost, and building resilience for challenges to come?

This beautiful example from Australian online community Envato - In Memory of Wink - shows how a community came together to grieve the loss of a member.

The following guidance can help you create a meaningful ritual:

  • Establish and communicate a clear purpose that transcends the activity itself (e.g. 'sharing' is not a purpose, it's an action)

  • Ensure a psychologically safe and compassionate environment to participate

  • Provide clear instructions and parameters

  • Plan inclusively and flexibly, to respect different engagement capabilities

  • Ensure your ritual isn't offensive, exploitative or dismissive of trauma

  • Utilise Ring Theory to understand where you or your members are situated within a loss or crisis moment, and 'comfort inward'.

  • Have relevant information or resources on hand if anyone needs to debrief or seek support after participating

Here are some simple ideas for grief rituals that can be used in most online communities:

  • Create a discussion thread for people to share things they've said goodbye to this year, and how they feel about that departure.

  • Invite people to create a piece of art (e.g. writing, painting, knitting, digital design) that embodies who or what they have lost.

  • Invite people to reflect on the loss through other works or content, such as a movie, book, poem or song.

  • Host a meditation or reflection that gives people quiet time to consider and process what has been lost and how they feel about it. They can choose to share if they wish.

  • Facilitate a discussion about lessons learned from the experience of loss, and how they can be applied positively in the future.

  • Invite members to express gratitude for what they do have, and for the role of the community in their individual lives.

  • Create a shared experience of joy (e.g. a laughing mediation) to counter the grief and provide a different type of release.

  • If identities are known within the community, you might coordinate a giving chain, where modest gifts can be sent to members to memorialise the loss, the moment, or the gathering itself.

  • Use an existing community ritual (e.g. sharing particular content on a particular day) and create a one-off focus around grief and loss.

  • Rituals can be separate while still social. Your members could commit to each performing a private ritual or remembrance at home, and check-in with each other in the community when they've completed the process. The results could stay private, or you could facilitate a shared story around them.

Grieving as a community through ritual can be transformative and brings a group closer together. Don't be fearful of embracing loss when it hits us as a whole, or affects your community directly.


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We acknowledge the Wadawurrung people of the Kulin nations, the Traditional Owners of the land on which ACM is convened and organised. We pay our respects to the local people and to their Elders: past, present and emerging. We have much to learn from first nations cultures.