When sorrow compounds, it’s called global grief
By Ron King
Whenever we experience the loss of someone close to us—through a shocking accident or prolonged illness that caused that special person to be on hospice care—their significance in our life often reminds us of other losses we’ve known over the years. The compounding of grief remembered with current grief complicates the process of healing. A heavy burden of feeling sadness about all we’ve lost through our lifetime may be too much to carry without being overwhelmed.
Grieving is also complicated when we experience several major losses in a short period of time because there’s no opportunity to fully recover from one loss while facing another. Even when the grief of multiple losses includes the death of parents, grandparents, siblings or friends from 20 years ago or longer, the sense of loss can be unbearable when we feel all these losses at the same time. The identities and details of each loss become blurred and grief becomes global. Global grief feels every loss as if it was happening today.
As we are faced with the inevitable death of everyone we know we can even feel the loss of loved ones who are still with us by anticipating their death. We realize this potential loss is certain to happen at some point. A resulting sense of helplessness and hopelessness can produce an anxiety or depression that makes it difficult to carry on regular daily responsibilities like paying bills, fixing meals, going to work or even getting up in the morning.
Sorrow over world events that include tremendous loss of life can also be triggered by the loss of a loved one. As we feel a sense of universal loss, the sorrow that results may carry with it a sadness about losing health, employment, meaning, friendships, finances or faith. Deep awareness and attention to the universal losses we experience can also remind us of our own mortality. It’s easy to believe there is little left to rebuild our lives and strengthen our hope again.
When grieving becomes complex, it may be helpful to name the pain of each specific loss we are experiencing. In addition to normal coping and recovery activities like support groups, time with friends and family, new interests, music, exercise, reading, and relaxation work, focused grieving helps us identify and limit our sense of loss. Being intentional about listing all we will miss helps us realize what we’ve been privileged to have for a time and the memories that remain.
Although it will hurt to notice and name what we no longer have, we will notice that what we’ve lost is not infinite and there is always a remainder—a dream we shared together, photos, memories or stories that can begin to fill our lives with meaning and provide a way to honor those we miss. The honor we give loved ones becomes part of the foundation for healing. Building a foundation from noticing what is gone and what remains will help balance our grief with hope.
Seeing what is real can save us from imagining the worst and dwelling on what is past.
When grief builds up and becomes global, give yourself permission to notice each loss separately. Notice the blessing, lessons, joy and strength that result from each person being in our lives. Seeing each loss alone as it really is helps create the boundaries that help us manage complicated grief. This is also a good time to consider grief counseling as a way of sorting out the various sources of grief we experience.