As I write this, more than 57,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, and the number of Americans grieving for each other grows exponentially. In a country that compartmentalizes death to funeral homes and then largely ignores the entire topic, the virus has made death pervasive and inescapable.
My heart hurts trying to fathom the loss, and I fear I could lose someone I love in the weeks and months to come. Perhaps, you fear the same.
Covid-19 is not finished with us yet, and it is altogether too soon to say, “Here’s what we’ve learned from the pandemic.” We are still trying to survive it. But, it’s not too early to see that much of what existed prior to the pandemic will have to change. Our old behaviors and systems that weren’t working or were working poorly must be reimagined and remade. One of the behaviors we must change is how we treat the grieving.
The fact that grief does not end when the funeral is over should be apparent to everyone now. Moreover, the small comfort that comes from a funeral or memorial service, the ritual of saying goodbye to someone, is removed when those ceremonies become impossible because of the virus, and the mourning becomes even more intense.
Juliane Nicole, a nurse and widow in Brooklyn, describes the devastating weight of deaths from Covid-19 in a FaceBook post. She writes:
“These people are saying goodbye to their loved ones, while they’re still walking and talking, and then maybe a week or two later, they’re just gone. It’s like they disappeared into thin air. That level of grief is absolutely astounding to me, and that’s coming from a person who knows grief. I was there at the bedside, I held my young husband’s hand and then watched his heart stop beating. I was there. That grief changes you immeasurably. But this grief? This pandemic grief? It’s inconceivable. These families will suffer horribly, every day for the rest of their lives.”
Educating each other
The grief that is now beginning will grow like a tsunami in coming months. Our nation needs to learn how to talk about death, needs to understand how grief changes our brains and bodies and spirits. We need grief counselors and mental health specialists to speak out and to make their services widely available. We–Hope Sisters, widows!–have to use what we know from our own experiences to speak out and support those who are joining us daily, hourly.
It feels like America is grieving, not only for the thousands we are losing to this virus, but for the loss of what we imagined we once were. Americans might have thought we were capable of dealing with death, leaving it to funeral homes, leaving it at the cemetery gates, sending thoughts and prayers and deepest sympathies. But, our culture has never been good at balancing life and death, at least not in modern America. Let’s work to replace our inept treatment of the grieving with something better: acknowledgement, acceptance, patience, empathy, and support. We are all the grieving now.