Joy Sackett Wood

Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Grief Transformation Coach & Author

How can we grieve someone we don’t know?


When we hear on the news or via some other means that a high-profile figure has died it is perfectly natural for us to reflect on our feelings towards them. Those feelings have been built up, possibly over many years and may be good, bad or indifferent depending on their achievements, actions or perceived personality, but there will be many thoughts, feelings and emotions stored in our subconscious mind, which form our opinion of that person, almost as if we know them personally. So, we may genuinely feel grief for the loss of that person and also genuine sorrow and compassion for their own family for their loss.

There is also the ‘collective consciousness’ where people want to do what others are doing for fear or being different or left out, or sometime just thinking that it’s what they should be doing, it’s what is expected.

It is part of the grieving process to miss the past, particularly if the memories are positive, but perhaps less so with someone we didn’t actually know because they weren’t an active daily part of our lives, so our own future is not likely to be affected. Grieving for the future is less likely with someone of a good age as their death, while sad, is partially expected, but with someone young there is the grief of not seeing and helping them to grow and flourish, lost opportunities, things that might have been and lost potential.

 For instance, Diana, Princess of Wales, was such a vibrant character, young and with much of her life yet to live which was always so openly exposed in the media. She captured the heart of the nation and was so admired for her charity work and her willingness to help those less fortunate. Her sudden death was a shock to the whole nation and again it was the loss of so much potential, what might have been, that the nation mourned for.

I think Prince Phillip lived longer than many people thought he would, so although it was expected, particularly with all the time he has spent in hospital recently. He will always be remembered for his own work, the Duke of Edinburgh Award, being president of the World Wildlife Fund etc, but because of his age the feeling is more one of acceptance.

 With regards to showing our own respect, part of it is tradition, the rites, rituals and processes this country is familiar with. In grief familiar things become more important and the need to ‘do something’ is very strong. The best thing that the general public can do is to respect the wishes of the family, just the same as any funeral, however, many people will feel the need to show their grief openly and if done for the right reasons that can be a good way to release those feelings. A book of condolence is an excellent idea, writing a short message can act as a release of emotions, getting those thoughts out of your head and onto a page for others to see is a very healthy way to release the grief.

Under normal circumstances, there would undoubtedly have been a State Funeral, with many events giving the nation a chance to grieve together, but as that is not possible, we should all respect the current regulations and follow events via TV and social media platforms.  “No fuss” is what Prince Philip requested, the Queen and the Royal Family have respected that, and so should we all to avoid a potential rise in infections and many more deaths to mourn.