Amid the national narrative of “returning to normal” after the pandemic, there are millions of us who will not — and cannot — return to normal. For us, this is just the beginning of a year of painful benchmarks: the last time we hugged our mom, the day our dad was put on a ventilator, the day we buried our partner.
It is difficult having these excruciating benchmarks juxtaposed with the nation’s exuberant re-enactment of the Roaring ‘20s when, freed from the constraints of sheltering in place and social distancing, people are counting down to their first concert, shopping spree, date night or mom hug.
While we are relieved about our growing national vaccination rates, with another 58,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Thursday alone, we know there will yet be more of us.
Now, more than at almost any other time during the course of the pandemic to date, people in our networks affected by Covid-19 are expressing new levels of exhaustion, disorientation, hopelessness and sorrow. People's desire to celebrate the end of a pandemic that hasn't actually ended, the results of which will be with many of us for some time, forces our grief deeper into the shadows and adds insult to injury. For many, it is just too much to bear.
Our government should be helping those most impacted by Covid-19 and not focusing so entirely on those who have been spared.
Together, as Marked By COVID and the COVID Grief Network, we are calling on our government to shift its messaging and honor grief.
During this transition from the nadir of the pandemic to a more positive path, our government should be helping those most impacted by Covid-19 and not focusing so entirely on those who have been spared. To his credit, President Joe Biden did commemorate the lives lost with a national vigil before his inauguration — but since that day the administration has cheerfully promised the “light at the end of the tunnel” as it has repeatedly focused on and applauded its efficient (if not equitable) vaccine delivery.
And at his Wednesday joint address to Congress Biden declared, “After 100 days of rescue and renewal, America is ready for takeoff.”
We have not been rescued or renewed, and such unequivocal celebrations of a page turned are exacerbating our isolation and compounding the already complex mourning process for those grieving loved ones lost to Covid-19.
In this critical moment, we must finally, truly all work together to make sure the bereaved are not further isolated as a result of others’ renewed connections.
People have already been grieving mostly alone, forced to give up collective mourning rituals like holding wakes and funerals or sitting shiva for safety, and now the nation is told to look forward to Fourth of July barbecues.
Of course, we are happy that people will be safe from this virus that has taken so much from our communities, and we want there to be celebrations ahead of us all; we don't wish the heartbreak of Covid-19 on anyone else. But the millions most harmed by this pandemic — who now face a lifetime of grief, health challenges and financial hardships — should not have to cope with little to no recognition or assistance.
Our government needs to balance its commitment to mass vaccination with public acknowledgment of our pain and commit to concrete support for our unfortunately rapidly growing constituency.
Unequivocal celebrations of a page turned are exacerbating our isolation and compounding the already complex mourning process.
First and foremost, we are calling for financial aid for people directly impacted by Covid-19. Every day, since the beginning of the pandemic, the COVID Grief Network has received requests for grief support, and 80 percent of respondents in a recent study of impacted individuals in the Marked By COVID network said they would benefit from mental health services to process their experiences. Yet, in many cases, mental health services are poorly covered by people's health insurance plans — when they are covered at all — or too many doctors don't accept insurance.
We believe the government needs to begin looking at restitution-based models, such as the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, for Covid-19 victims and their families, to make sure out-of-pocket medical expenses, mental health counseling, funerals and burial costs, loss of earnings and even pain and suffering are accounted for.
We are also calling for recognition: We need ways to publicly grieve to help make up for the fact that so many of us were denied access to our preferred grief rituals. We want to establish a permanent, public memory of this pandemic and the systemic failures that made it so much worse, to hopefully prevent it from ever happening again.
Part of our demand for recognition is for a federal Covid-19 Memorial Day on the first Monday of March. This concept has already gained momentum: In March, mayors from more than 150 cities recognized the day with actions, such as passing local ordinances marking the date, and 45 members of Congress co-sponsored a resolution supporting the idea.
But we must not stop there. Grief experts and researchers alike underscore the need for grief to be witnessed. We need permanent and accessible public spaces for reflection and mourning and are calling for the establishment of monuments to Covid-19 victims on the National Mall, in all 50 states and in every U.S. territory.
Finally, we are demanding a full-scale investigation by a national commission — similar to the one established after 9/11 — to fully document whether the government was prepared for and what it did in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and to make recommendations for the future, to make sure a tragedy on this scale never happens again.
Quickly documenting the truth of what happened here will ensure that history captures the unvarnished reality for future generations and ensures that we never forget. It’s the last thing we can do to honor the hundreds of thousands of people unnecessarily lost to this pandemic.
In this critical moment, we must finally, truly all work together to make sure the bereaved are not further isolated as a result of others’ renewed connections and that no one who comes after us has to go through what we did. Healing America after Covid-19 cannot mean only making sure no one else gets sick; it has to mean fixing what went so terribly wrong and making up for the ways in which it did. We who were affected by Covid-19 still need help — even if it's not as much fun to think about as a family barbecue.