At a commemoration, family members and others are gathered to honour the memory of the deceased. The commemoration is an opportunity to show respect and talk about the loss. The ceremony can bring about closure, which promotes healing. It is common to distinguish between “mourning events” and “collective grief situations”.

Mourning events
Mourning events are ceremonies for individuals or groups, such as leaving flowers or lighting candles at an accident site. Other examples could be:

  • Flags at half-mast
  • One minute of silence
  • Condolence books
  • Memorial pages in social media

A commemoration could for example include a memorial speech, recital of a poem or lighting of candles. The ceremony is usually ended by a minute of silence. The leader of the commemoration should be a person that has a unifying effect on those present.

Collective grief situations
Following major incidents that affect all or a larger part of the population, some form of collective grief situation is usually seen. This is some of the background for official commemorations after major incidents.

Collective grief requires collective processing.

Petter Skants, Norwegian Church Abroad

Collective grief follow-up is usually directed more towards the incident than the affected individuals. It can involve interviews with people in key positions, opportunities for gathering and talking about the incident or commemorations.

The initiative to provide a public commemoration is taken by the government or by local agencies. These ceremonies have traditionally been organised by the church, often as a memorial service. The church still has a unifying role for many people when major incidents happen. However, it is becoming more common to have non-denominational commemorations. The main point is to avoid competing ceremonies that can lead to splitting of those affected or bereaved.