All across the country, the American flag will be flown at half-staff this week to commemorate a harrowing COVID-19 milestone: 500,000 recorded deaths.
After over a year of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., it’s easy to let yet another shocking milestone breeze by as we continue to move forward. However, in our pandemic frenzy, many of us have never stopped to process the magnitude of our individual and collective loss.
At a White House memorial on Monday, President Joe Biden urged all Americans: “We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow.”
When the pandemic first began, it was far easier to feel the shock of each loss, but 500,000 is an impossible number to fathom. It’s easier to numb ourselves to such a seemingly abstract quantity of death. However, the 500,000th death is no less meaningful than the very first death that received days of intense news coverage.
As we remain steadfast in our commitment to mask-wearing, we must also remain steadfast in our commitment to grieving our losses and feeling the sorrow.
We have all lost something. Perhaps not something as significant as a loved one, but we have all endured months without the embrace of our friends and the joy of being together; we have lost our sense of control and safety; we have missed out on momentous life celebrations. We have each faced death and loss in some capacity. It is one of the few things we all share in common.
As the slow but steady distribution of the vaccine offers growing hope for a return to pre-COVD life, we mustn’t rush through the collective grief of this season.
Americans are notoriously bad at grief. While various other cultures encourage public displays of sorrow and practice lengthy mourning rituals, most Americans shudder at the thought of crying in public and often attempt to squeeze funerals in during a half-day of work. However, grief is an inescapable part of the human experience, and ignoring it doesn’t make us stronger or more evolved.
Each of the 500,000 Americans who lost their lives to COVID deserve our grief and likewise, we deserve to give ourselves the permission to grieve all we’ve lost.
We all know the COVID-19 trifecta: wash your hands, wear a mask, social distance; but we’d like to suggest one additional directive: Don’t forget to grieve.