Grief is an experience that is deeply personal. Every grief is different, and differently felt.

But the experience of loss among certain groups of people can have undeniable similarities. Perhaps they share religious or cultural mourning traditions. Or maybe their loved ones passed under similar circumstances—as is the case with military spouses.

Recent data has shown that there is a significant racial gap when it comes to loss and bereavement as well.

Collectively, there are stark racial differences in the US related to the frequency of loss and the experience of grief.

The racial gap is real—and by shedding light on this phenomenon, a better understanding can lead to better support for Black families who are struggling under the weight of grief.

A heavier toll of loss

In general, loss tends to touch Black Americans’ lives more often—and earlier—than White Americans.

During childhood, Black people in the US are more likely than White people to have a parent pass away, according to a study by the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Loss tends to touch Black Americans’ lives more often—and earlier—than White Americans.

By age 30, Black Americans are twice as likely to have experienced the death of two or more family members. And by age 65, they are 90 percent more likely than White Americans to have experienced four or more deaths, the University of Texas study showed.

With any loss, the emotional, physical, and even financial strain can push a family to its limits. Multiple losses, however, create even more stress—and can lead to prolonged grief disorder, also known “complicated grief.

Prolonged grief disorder

Recently acknowledged by the American Psychiatric Association in its official manual, prolonged grief disorder is a term that describes an acute state of grief that does not change, even months or years later. The feelings can be so overwhelming that maintaining relationships and completing the daily tasks of life can feel impossible.

With prolonged grief disorder, there is a racial gap as well—affecting Black people in the US at a higher rate than their White counterparts, according to a 2022 study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Collective grief

Finally, the racial gap is exacerbated by collective grief, which affects Black Americans at a higher rate than White Americans, a University of Arizona study showed.

Within the context of the United States’ history of racial oppression and violence, every high-profile hate crime, murder, or episode of police brutality can trigger fears for your safety and your family’s safety.

Even if you don’t know the people you see suffering personally, it is easy to feel a parasocial connection—that they are like you, your children, your parents, or your friends. And it is easy to feel heartbroken and truly grieve for a person you don’t know.

This is a heavy weight to carry. And the collective grief of hundreds of years of history will not subside anytime soon.

But by understanding what Black Americans, as a group, are facing in terms how often loss affects them, we can begin to create a culture of care that addresses that reality.