Collective grief for matthew perry

Collective Grief: Why We Feel Sad When a Beloved Celebrity Dies

In life’s quietest moments, certain celebrities transcend their personas and reputations. Actor Matthew Perry, best known globally for his role as Chandler on the late ‘90s American sitcom FRIENDS, was such a one. 

Perry, who passed away Saturday,  became a part of our lives in a way that felt like we’d known him personally – perhaps because he publicly faced mental health challenges and intimate demons, and celebrated personal successes after each public setback. In doing so, he transcended his acting fame and became a beacon for struggling people everywhere. 


His loss reminds us that the impact of artists extends beyond  entertainment; these public figures have significant influence on our lives. They walk beside us, their work and words intertwined with our experiences, shaping our perspectives, and offering solace during challenging times. They help us find joy, healing, and comprehension on our unique journeys.


And when they depart, it feels like bidding adieu to a part of ourselves we hadn’t fully appreciated – the part that ties us to the rest of humanity. 


Let’s explore how the loss of someone like Matthew Perry can trigger a collective experience of grief.


Understanding collective grief


Collective grief is a shared experience of mourning, where people come together to process their emotions in the wake of a significant, public loss. Collective grief, in its essence, is the mass mourning and emotional response to a shared loss. 


It often occurs in response to the death of a public figure, a natural disaster, or a tragic event that impacts a community or society as a whole. In the case of Matthew Perry’s passing, the global outpouring of grief on social media and in public memorials is a poignant example of how such grief manifests.


Experiencing collective grief


Collective grief can be experienced and displayed in various ways. People may come together for candlelight vigils, memorials, online discussions, or binge-watching an artist’s oeuvre, to share their feelings and honour the deceased. Such feelings often mirror those experienced in personal grief, including sadness, anger, confusion, and a sense of emptiness. These feelings can similarly worsen general mental well-being for an extended period of time.


This shared experience can bring people closer, fostering a sense of connection among those who are grieving. It’s not uncommon to see strangers offering support and condolences to one another during such times, highlighting the sense of community that can emerge from collective grief.


Why collective grief occurs


Collective grief tends to occur when a loss resonates with a large number of people. This can happen for various reasons, such as the widespread impact of a public figure, a tragedy that captures the world’s attention, or a disaster that affects an entire community. The need to process and share these emotions as a group arises from a shared connection to the event or individual.


The why of collective grief is rooted in our human need for connection and empathy. When something deeply significant happens, it often reminds us of our own vulnerabilities and mortality. Sharing our grief with others helps us feel less isolated and more understood during these difficult times.


Collective grief v. personal grief


Is collective grief as legitimate as personal grief? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Grief, in all its forms, is a deeply personal and human experience. The legitimacy of collective grief lies in its widespread impact. The emotions experienced are just as real and powerful, and the need to mourn and heal together is entirely valid.


Both collective grief and personal grief share common emotional responses. Pain, sadness, and longing are present in both cases. However, the primary difference lies in the scale and scope of the grief. Personal grief is an individual’s response to a loss within their own life, whereas collective grief involves a larger group of people who share the same emotional experience.


How to cope with collective grief


Coping with collective grief can be a challenging but essential process. Here are a few tips to help navigate these emotions:


  • Connect with friends, fans, neighbours, and community members to share your feelings and find comfort and solidarity either online or in person. Create safe spaces for open discussions about the shared grief and other emotions, and encourage active listening and understanding.
  • Look for community healing events, counselling services, or memorial activities, which can foster a sense of unity and healing. Or, organise such a memorial event, like a candlelight vigil or tree planting ceremony (or FRIENDS marathon), yourself.
  • Channel your grief into helping others by volunteering with community service projects or a worthy cause related to the public figure. This can provide a sense of purpose and togetherness.
  • Seek professional help if grief becomes overwhelming. Consider talking to a therapist or counsellor who specialises in grief and loss.


As we navigate collective grief, we come together to share our emotions, honour the impact of the individual(s) lost, and heal collectively. It’s a powerful reminder that, even in the face of significant losses, our capacity for empathy and support can help us find resilience and compassion, forging deeper connections within our communities.


In the end, our grief is a testament to the enduring impact of the individual(s) and the incredible depth of human connection, which stretches beyond the boundaries of personal acquaintance.



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Raksha Rajesh (M.Sc., M.Phil., CRR No. A80195) is a clinical psychologist licensed by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). She has 5+ years of experience in helping people from diverse backgrounds build skills to understand and manage their emotions.

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