Your name – first and last – is written at the top of page one of a book. Now draw 249 more names after that, filling in the white space to the bottom. Keep adding names until you have 2,000 pages. This is one lakh. Or slip on your sneakers, tie the laces, walk out at an even pace and make your every move count. To reach 1 million steps, you would have to walk non-stop for about seven days. Or imagine that the Titanic, still carrying 1,517 people aboard, collided with that catastrophic iceberg and sank not once but 667 times, for a total of 1 million deaths.
COVID-19 has claimed more than 1 million lives in the United States, President Joe Biden acknowledged on Thursday. But humans are not so equipped to process large numbers – regardless of massive suffering – that it is nearly impossible to understand the toll that takes. What this milestone means for a growing number of grieving Americans cannot be conveyed by statistics alone.
Research shows that when a person suffers or dies, it evokes the deepest feelings of grief. But our ability to understand that suffering does not increase with the loss of each additional person, said Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon. “As the numbers go up, we lose the emotion.”
statistics about death and suffering, whether tied to COVID or to war or famine,”[bounce] “When we get to know someone who has the disease or we know for the first time about people who are suffering, we move away from us, expressing little meaning or emotion,” Slovic said.
The truth is, we’ll never really know the exact number of human casualties — additional deaths caused by the virus are not captured by official counts — nor the exact day we hit any specific amount. We can’t really count the trap of emotional pain, although experts estimate that for every person who dies from COVID-19, nine close family or friends are left behind.
However, the misery is spread unevenly. Some communities left vulnerable to systemic racism, lack of accessible health care and other inequalities have borne a disproportionate burden. The disadvantages that may be so obvious to some are few and far between others.
Some watched a family member’s last moments on the iPad, or said goodbye in tears over the phone. Others didn’t get that chance, instead getting a call from an exhausted hospital staff that their person was gone. Families in black and brown communities, especially those whose reserves were already depleted by systemic racism, lack of access to affordable health care, and economic uncertainty, have disproportionately carried the burden of the pandemic’s grief.
Sabila Khan’s father, Shafqat Khan, died of COVID on April 14, 2020, “What I believe was the battlefield of an emergency room during the peak of the New Jersey-New York pandemic.”
A community organizer, Khan’s father worked to raise the voice of fellow Pakistani Americans and Muslims, especially after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and to promote dialogue in communities in New Jersey. Later in life, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and when his rehabilitation facility went into lockdown in mid-March 2020 to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, Khan said he “wrongly believed he was the most Were in a safe place.” But the virus was likely already inside the facility. Within days, Khan’s father became ill. On April 6, she was taken to a hospital three blocks from her home. Despite being so close to her, Khan said that the COVID protocol forbids her to be with him, including in his last moments. Even in death, she could not be near him; He watched his father’s funeral, live-streamed through his phone.
“My father died a death he did not deserve. He was a good man. He was painful, scared and died alone,” she said. “I wish everyone could recognize it.”
Deep in his grief, Khan searched online for communities of survivors. Not finding any, he set up a private Facebook group to give a community to families like his. Today, there are 14,000 users. Members send messages to acknowledge their loved one’s birthday or death anniversary, and support each other as holidays and milestones form, providing fresh reminders that their person will not be there to celebrate.
Khan said that, in anticipation of 1 million COVID deaths, many people who have lost someone worry that the country will go through a phase of mourning for a day and then return to business as usual, left homeless by the pandemic. Families will be forgotten.
“The phase the bereaved people are going through at this time is like a nightmare,” he said. “The thing that killed our loved ones is still here.”
Bereavement expert and author David Kessler said more should be done to support those who suddenly find themselves grieving the loss of a loved one. In much of the country, COVID restrictions have been eased, masks have been taken off and signs of normal life are emerging in familiar patterns. But Kessler said that grief must be seen, and that “we have done a really terrible, terrible thing by seeing their grief.”
Kessler said those who are grieving don’t need to hear whether their loved one is in a better place. They just want to listen without worrying whether they have to defend their loved one with questions that mean they have somehow invited their illness and death.
Since the death of Kevin Taylor, father of Charonda Johnson, a Vietnam War veteran and church leader in Dover, Delaware, he has lost count of how people have judged him for his age, underlying conditions, or even behavior. How many times have you asked about what could be the reason for dying? of COVID in August 2020. Those questions angered Johnson, who found COVID Survivors for Change, because they “great your loss and your experience and your sadness,” she said. “No one says to someone who has died of cancer, ‘Well, what did your loved one do to get cancer?'”
Why we struggle to understand mass loss
Part of the phenomenon of mental numbness is explained by how humans evolved, Slovic explained. On a given day, a person typically practices fast thinking (quick, intuitive decisions based on visceral reactions to images and impressions) and sometimes slow thinking (analysis based on logic, reason, and science). The reliance on fast thinking is a survival mechanism that “helps us get through our day,” Slovic said. But it destroys our ability to understand loss and human suffering on an order of magnitude.
Numbers that end in zero get people’s attention, however brief, Slovic said. A million deaths is huge, and he hoped that more people would stop and slowly think about who the country had lost, “but then it may not last very long.”
To combat the tendency to be insensitive to serious milestones, social worker and bereavement counselor Melissa Selvag says it’s critically important to remember, “Every one of these numbers is a person who loved someone. Was.”
Grieving people often “feel like the world is moving on and [theirs] has stopped,” Selevag said. She tells them that when someone dies, you don’t get over it – you learn to live with it. You need to talk about your person and share your memories with others. Grief comes in waves, she said, and learning to cope with that grief is a non-linear process.
Grief is raw and fresh for preschool teacher Genevieve Larnaga. She is still struggling to talk about her husband and the father of their teenage sons, Edward Larnaga, who died of COVID on March 3. He had saved for retirement and planned to travel with his tight-knit family. Country. At home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, they loved to laugh and share time by a thundering fire. “We never do anything separately,” she said. She was not ready to let him go.
Despite her begging, pandemic protocol prevented Larnaga from being by the side of her high school sweetheart while he was still awake.
Was he in pain? Was he scared? No answer gives rest. Now, whenever she and her boys move past the dining table where Ed previously set up his office, his heart breaks again because “it’s empty.”
“It’s not just a number. These are real people who had real lives and were thriving. They are missing a lot,” Laranaga said through tears.
It’s not too late to support these families, Kessler said. Government officials can do more to officially remember and recognize those who have died of COVID, as well as take their memories. Permanent public memorials will create an open space for people to mourn. Bereavement counseling, especially for the 200,000 children under the age of 18 who have lost a caregiver in America so far during the pandemic, will help many learn how to find meaning again and live their lives. to proceed with.
a living memory
In her own way, Jenny Clay is building a memorial for her daughter, Alexandra Chandler, who died in February at the age of 27.
Chandler and her husband had struggled for years to have a child of their own, but on Mother’s Day last year, Chandler excitedly told Clay that she was going to be a mom too.
Clay said that as a school teacher in Killeen, Texas, Chandler caught COVID shortly after returning to class from winter break despite vaccinations. Chandler gave birth to a son, Beau, on January 9 by caesarean section. But as her condition continued to worsen, Clay said the hospital did not treat her daughter before sending her back home. Clay said that because of the prospect of being a new mom, Chandler didn’t know how sick she was and only went to the hospital when her son became ill.
“She was clueless,” Clay said through tears. “She just nailed it. She didn’t know she was so sick. She’s never had a baby before.”
At the hospital, staff realized how far Chandler had gone, and COVID protocol prevented Clay from holding her daughter’s hand, even when her baby was “crying for me,” she said. Desperate to bridge the distance to the hospital window, Clay took a pen and paper and made a sign for his daughter that said, “We love you,” while pressing it against the glass. Then, she watched her child for the next 30 days, until she died during the Super Bowl on February 13.
After that, Clay, who is also a teacher, quits her job and now works at a grocery store. In Texas, she said people behave as if COVID-19 “doesn’t exist.” People rarely wear masks. Some challenge Clay when she says that her daughter died of COVID.
Clay has no choice but to keep going, she said. To move on, she’s slowly working on a memory book dating back to the day Chandler was born. Clay wants to give it to his grandson when he grows up so he knows who his mother was, why she mattered in life and why she should be remembered in death.
“She’s gone, but she left this gift for us to enjoy,” Clay said, referring to Beau. “If there’s a healing going on, that’s what’s happening. I hold it and think about it.”