There’s a need to grieve for those we have lost. This is true no matter the age of our loved one and no matter the cause of their death. Whether their death was expected due to long or prolonged illness or whether their death was sudden or tragic. People need their community to help them through the process of mourning, grieving and celebrating the lives of those who have left this world and moved on to the next. Although we are people of different faiths and belief systems, we all have a variety of ways to grieve. There are various rituals that are performed in the process of releasing those we love to the realm of the deceased; we all need to grieve. It is a process and a necessity. We need a way to honor the lives that were once so important to us and so much a part of the life that we live every day.
We have arrived at the one-year anniversary of when the pandemic called COVID-19 invaded our country. The drastic ways in which this pandemic has changed how we live our lives, especially with regard to quarantine, social distancing, masking and the severe limitations on how many of us can actually gather together, has caused us to put our grief on hold. We have been unable to find closure or connection with those who would at any other time be holding us in their arms. We would be weeping together, laughing together, remembering together. We would be touching one another in a demonstration of love, solidarity, and acknowledgement of our collective loss and grief.
Virtual funerals and burials are happening instead. “Streaming live on Facebook” ceremonies and services have become more and more common leaving so many people in our communities out of the loop. Watching funerals on a television, computer or cellphone screen is so un-natural and removed from reality that it has become increasingly difficult for us all to allow ourselves a healthy grieving process. Many people have held on to this grief, hoping to be able to release it with the people they love at some later point when things return to “normal.” But what happens in the meantime? What happens if this mandate to social distance and not gather in groups continues? None of us ever expected that we would still be in this situation after an entire year of locked downs, restaurants closed to indoor dining or severely decreased capacity? Who thought that so many schools would still be online instead of in person? What if wearing masks in public and limits on indoor activities become the norm? How will we be able to let go of our grief and loss as a community, as a society, as a part of our cultural health and sustainability?
The United States of America has just reached a grim and unimaginable milestone of over a half a million lives lost to COVID-19 over this past year. This is more death than the collective death toll of American lives lost in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars combined. Have you ever visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall on the National Mall in Washington, DC? It takes your breath away when you see the list of names that line that wall. The 911 Memorial with the names of those lost to that terrorist attack is so sobering and the grief we feel when we visit is necessary and healthy to express. Remembrance and honoring of all the souls that were lost on that one day is so important to our well-being and collective humanity. Just as it is necessary for us to grieve those we lost in that national tragedy, so too it is necessary that we find a way to memorialize the half a million lives lost to this horrible pandemic. We must find a way to mourn as a nation, to release our grief and not to cover it up or pretend that we are alright. All of the families who are grieving the loss of their loved ones must find a way to collectively feel, mourn and celebrate those lives together so that healing can begin.
We as a nation must recognize that our healing will not begin until we can find a way to commemorate and honor the souls that our nation has lost in the dark days of this awful pandemic. We need a national memorial and a national day of remembrance or we will not be able to let go of our grief.