Britta Gustafson: Unbreakable? Time to share in collective grief

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

In Italy, a broken heart or cuore spezzato is considered a condition worthy of defined “recovery time.” In France, coeur brisé (a broken heart) or tristesse de le cœur (sadness of the heart) is an emotional state treated much like bereavement with paid time off, an outpouring of support from friends and family and a general air of sympathy. Many other cultures respect the varying degrees of pain, suffering and grief one can experience when mourning the loss of what might have been.

With any condition that can cause stress to the mental and physical aspects of life, those stressors can shift into becoming a focal point, a challenge that may be more than one can manage alone.

But what if we all experienced some form of heartbreak collectively, and all within a month or so? Who would be there to help us rebuild the foundations for a healthy way forward?

How can we nurture ourselves while simultaneously supporting and providing stability for those all around us? As a mom, I know that it is possible to put the needs of others ahead of our own, but as the airline adage goes, “Secure your own life mask before helping others.”

So how can we even begin to heal this collective broken heart when our own hearts are fragile at best? How can we acknowledge that everyone on Earth is experiencing some form of loss, while balancing the fact that it does not diminish our own? The rug has been pulled out from under most of us, ranging from the loss of simple pleasures like vacation plans and social gatherings, to more essential needs like job security, child care and stable income. And this goes on to primal needs, like food, shelter and health care, right down to life itself whisked away; a preventable death in an era of mismanaged resources and prolific denial.

It seems reasonable to begin to acknowledge that a period of mourning has begun to set in. We’re hearing about painful events on our nightly news, or even experiencing first-hand visceral stories of self-sacrificing health care workers, mass graves, sick babies, grandparents saying goodbye over FaceTime.

We have for generations now come to appreciate a certain set of expectations, but with the sheer loss of life things now suddenly seem so fleeting. That alone is enough to be unhinging. All the while the health threat is ever present, the economy is scary and our supply chain house-of-cards seems to be quaking.

So perhaps we could all benefit from collectively accepting that everyone is likely shouldering some aspect of these very real struggles. And perhaps as a society we might try a little harder to walk-the-talk when we say “We are all in this together.” To really try not to diminish the struggles of others or feel the need to stoically downplay our own.

I would imagine most of us have experienced some loss this month. At best, many of us are all feeling disappointments. For some, the pain is tangible: loss of jobs, income, housing, health. It is all beclouded in heartbreak for what might have been.

There are times when we can experience gratitude and still be suffering at the same time. I am grateful for our health and for the abundant access to wilderness here. On that note I hope we do not abuse those privileges away. When this is all at bay, let’s remember how grateful we are and work harder than ever to maintain as much access to our outdoor environment as possible before we continue to develop it away and end up stuck in concrete cubicles for our next quarantine.

It seems like this might be the right time to feel OK about our own sadness, even when we have much to be thankful for. After all, a broken heart in this country, unlike Italy or France, is something we are supposed to rebound from, hide or otherwise ignore.

But perhaps it isn’t healthy to dismiss a sense of loss or grief when relating it to our visions, goals, passions, hopes and dreams, because when they are spirited away overnight, it is devastating.

Our collective energy is experiencing a broken heart and I can feel it.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at