We are distressed and shocked by the terrible attack on the Muslim community in Christchurch.
Our hearts and thoughts go out to all those affected directly and indirectly by these acts of violence. The impact of these events will be felt across New Zealand and well beyond its shore to Australia and the rest of the world. We express our profound sorrow for members of the Muslim community both in New Zealand and Australia.

Acts of mass violence such as these can trigger a range of individual and collective grief responses, including anger, fear and anxiety. Mr Christopher Hall, CEO of the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, has provided a timely insight into the role of grief, what it looks like, and where people can go to find support. 

According to Mr Hall, one of the first steps towards dealing with grief is understanding what it looks like. “Grief isn’t just someone who is tearful. Grief can manifest in a range of emotions and responses. People can get angry, or anxious or scared. They also do things like write books, petition governments, create art, and post on social media. This kind of grief has a ripple effect through society, and we see this play out in both mainstream and social media after violent events” said Mr Hall. 

He adds that while much of the public conversation following acts of mass violence tend to focus on the topic of ‘trauma’, we are also seeing a series of grief responses play out around the world.

“Sudden and unexpected deaths like this challenge our beliefs about our own safety and produce widespread feelings of anxiety. As grief and bereavement practitioners, we know that those who struggle the most are those who can’t make sense of the loss. And there are a lot of people right now who are struggling to make sense of these events” he said.

Mr Hall adds that it’s also entirely normal for people who are not personally involved in situations like these to experience grief.

“It’s absolutely possible for people to feel real and authentic grief for people they don’t know. Grief connects to our own experiences of loss. In situations like this, the public and private become intermingled. We see this sort of thing with the death of public figures, and it’s certainly present in situations like mass shootings” he said.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are prime sites for these expressions of grief. They provide a sense of community through which we can share thoughts and feelings and be acknowledged by others. As a virtual community of support, social media plays an important role in how we experience grief in these situations, especially as we learn about the victims and their families through shared photos, stories and media coverage. However, the live streaming on social media of the Christchurch killings means that many people have been exposed to graphic images of the shooting. In many cases, this will be a source of distress. The constant viewing of images or repeated checking of news and social media sites can add to pain for some people.

Culturally, we see these events exist in the media for a short while and then dissipate.  However, the experience of grief is much broader. When people die suddenly, there’s no opportunity to say goodbye, and there is an overlap of trauma to compound the loss.

The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement provides a range of grief and bereavement services and resources. Further information can be found at www.grief.org.au