This Too Shall Pass: Mourning Collective Loss in the Age of COVID-19

This Too Shall Pass: Mourning Collective Loss in the Age of COVID-19

Read the report: This Too Shall Pass: Mourning Collective Loss in the Age of COVID-19

Beyond its more immediately obvious effects – on human lives, economies, and societal and cultural norms – COVID-19 is beginning to reveal itself as a crisis of the mind.

With an estimated 2.6 billion people currently living under lockdown, the World Economic Forum has termed the COVID-19 pandemic “the world’s biggest psychological experiment“, and we’re already getting a good idea of the results.

The nature of the crisis goes right to the core of how we live – and die – as social beings, and forces us to look our unease with death squarely in the face. We are experiencing widespread loss, and this inevitably leads to the need to grieve. As such, we recognise that grieving well and collectively will be essential.

This essay is a meditation on that collective grief – for the passing of people we love who have died alone, of millions of others worldwide, and of a way of life that we once deemed normal, and now is unlikely to ever return.

But for all that we feel our situation to be unprecedented, we as humans have faced cataclysms like this many times before. To make sense of cataclysmic crises, we need to look to our ancestors. In particular, we must look to myths, the shared stories that helped them to understand and confront past disasters, which continue to surface in popular fiction and film today.

In our essay, we divide these into three categories – apocalypse myths, restoration myths, and emergence myths – and use them as inspiration for eight key lessons, which can help us navigate this moment of cataclysm and catharsis. Finally, we offer five practices for grieving well, to be explored individually or in groups.

We write all of this with the implicit acknowledgement that our society often struggles with grief, that it can be seen as something to be hidden away or processed rapidly and in secret. We know that grief is painful, but the importance of allowing it to unfold, of honouring it both as individuals and collectively, cannot be understated.

As our ancestors before us have found, grief also has gifts to offer us. When in its throes, these can be difficult to discern. But when we are able to draw on shared stories, rituals and practices, our ability to see them for what they are, to make sense of life while also grappling with loss and despair, is helped enormously.


About The Collective Psychology Project:
The Collective Psychology Project is a collaborative inquiry into how psychology and politics can be brought together in new, creative ways that help us to become a Larger Us instead of a Them-and-Us. In addition to working on collective grief, the Project is currently working on mental health resources to support people during COVID-19; on Larger Us campaigning with a range of NGOs and movements; and on prototyping small collective self-help groups that work on both our states of mind and the state of the world.