Although there are many approaches to grief counseling, most focus directly on the grief we experience over the death of a loved one. But what about the unexplainable, and often embarrassing, grief experienced over the death of someone we never knew? The pop star whose life was unexpectedly ended, the child brutally killed by a pedophile, or the massacre of 13 young men and woman on an army base.

I’m not referring to the normal amount of sadness felt when an great tragedy occurs. But rather that very deep sense of loss that is usually reserved for the death of loved ones.

It may take the form of a fan’s hysterical crying at a memorial service or spontaneous emotional tributes at the site of a traffic accident, or the endless watching on television of the unfolding of something that is unspeakable.

In the deaths of others, we see the vulnerability of our own aspirations and lives. Yes, a person may grieve the death of a pop star because he never reached this full potential, but in his death may see the disintegration of our own aspirations. We grieve the death of a child by a pedophile, not only because it’s an indescribable tragedy, but as parents, it means we realize our own children are also vulnerable. We grieve the loss of the soldiers not just because it was so senseless, but in their deaths we see that our own personal safety may be dependent upon the mental health of people we don’t know.

Grieving for loved ones is expected, natural and the expression of the loss of connection with some who impacted our lives. Grieving for people we don’t know becomes instructive for what we fear the most. The poet Rilke wrote that “our fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasures.”  The next time you feel an unexplainable sense of grief about the death of someone you didn’t know, give voice to that fear and you just might find your deepest treasure.

copyright 2009. Stan Goldberg, This article can be reproduced and distributed without charge for any non-commercial project if the source is provided.

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Stan Goldberg

Stan Goldberg is a Professor Emeritus of Communicative Disorders at San Francisco State University. For over 25 years he taught, provided therapy, researched, and published in the area of information processing, loss, and change. Stan has published seven books, written numerous articles and delivered over 100 lectures and workshops throughout the United States, Latin America and Asia. He is currently working on a novel and a book on loss. He also consults on issues of personal, institutional, and corporate change. He has served as an expert legal witness in high-profile court cases and is a consulting editor for Oxford University Press. Stan leads workshops for adults whose lives were suddenly and traumatically changed. He serves at the bedside hospice volunteer in San Francisco for Pathways Home Health Care and Hospice. and is a featured columnist in the Hospice Volunteers of America quarterly magazine. His published magazine articles, essays, poems, and plays have received numerous national and international writing awards. Written with humor and sensitivity, they have appeared in magazines ranging from Psychology Today to Horse and Rider. His latest book is Lessons for the Living: Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life It’s a memoir of his six years as a bedside hospice volunteer; an experience that taught him to accept his cancer and live fully, no matter how long that might be. He can be contacted at Numerous downloadable articles appear on his website

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