n. When one or more people die, the widespread feeling of loss or distress among people who did not know the deceased personally.
The measure of communal bereavement that Catalano and Hartig use in their research is the prevalence of very low birth weight babies — babies born small as a result of premature labor, which can be induced by psychological stress. They wanted to know, as Catalano puts it, "How far away from the individuals who died can you be and still experience the bereavement response at a biological level?" Studying the effects of two national traumas in Sweden, and controlling for other variables, they found a 21 percent increase in very low birth weight babies after the assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme, and a 15 percent increase after the ferry Estonia sank, killing hundreds of passengers.
As Earl Spencer reached the denouement of his eulogy at the funeral for his sister, the late Princess of Wales, last September, a wave of applause rolled across the parks and streets around Westminster Abbey, then swept through the church itself. It was an unprecedented manifestation of communal bereavement and anger.
The verb bereave comes from an Old English word meaning to deprive or rob, and it means to deprive someone of a much loved person, especially through death. This is normally felt by family, friends, and other people who were close to the deceased. Communal bereavement extends this feeling to a large portion of the populace, most of whom would never even have met the deceased. The death of Princess Diana in 1997 certainly elicited this response (see the earliest citation), as did the 3,000 deaths resulting from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.