A Virtual Memorial for Those We’ve Lost

The special project “What Loss Looks Like” presents personal artifacts belonging to those who have left us and explores what they mean to those left behind.

Readers submitted photos of items that reminded them of loved ones who died in the past year.

By Jaspal Riyait

As the art director of the Well desk, I’ve spent the last year looking for images to reflect the devastation of the pandemic and the grief it has wrought. As the crisis has stretched on, I’ve thought of all the people who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 — not to mention those who have lost loved ones, period — and how they were cut off from the usual ways of gathering and grieving. Watching the numbers rise every day, it was easy to lose sight of the people behind the statistics. I wanted to find a way to humanize the death toll and re-establish the visibility of those who had died.

To help our readers honor the lives of those lost during the pandemic, we decided to ask them to submit photographs of objects that remind them of their loved ones. The responses were overwhelming, capturing love, heartache and remembrance. We heard from children, spouses, siblings, grandchildren and friends — people who had lost loved ones not only to Covid-19 but from all manner of causes. What united them was their inability to mourn together, in person.

Dani Blum, Well’s senior news assistant, spent hours speaking with each individual by phone. “It’s the hardest reporting I’ve ever done, but I feel really honored to be able to tell these stories,” she said. “What struck me the most about listening to all of these stories was how much joy there was in remembering the people who died, even amid so much tragedy. Many of these conversations would start in tears and end with people laughing as they told me a joke the person they lost would tell, or their favorite happy memory with them.”

The photographs and personal stories, published digitally as an interactive feature, was designed by Umi Syam and titled “What Loss Looks Like.” Among the stories we uncovered: A ceremonial wedding lasso acts as a symbol of the unbreakable bond between a mother and father, both lost to Covid-19 and mourned by their children. A ceramic zebra figurine reminds one woman of her best friend, who died after they said a final goodbye. A gold bracelet that belonged to a father never leaves his daughter’s wrist because she is desperate for any connection to his memory.

For those who are left behind, these items are tangible daily reminders of those who have departed. These possessions hold a space and tell a story. Spend time with them and you begin to feel the weight of their importance, the impact and memory of what they represent.

Museums have long showcased artifacts as a connection to the past. So has The New York Times, which published a photo essay in 2015 of objects collected from the World Trade Center and surrounding area on 9/11. As we launched this project, we heard from several artists who, in their own work, explored the connection between objects and loss.

Shortly after Hurricane Sandy, Elisabeth Smolarz, an artist in Queens, began working on “The Encyclopedia of Things,” which examines loss and trauma through personal objects. Kija Lucas, a San Francisco-based artist, has been photographing artifacts for the past seven years, displaying her work in her project “The Museum of Sentimental Taxonomy.”

Saved: Objects of the Dead” is a 12-year project by the artist Jody Servon and the poet Lorene Delany-Ullman, in which photographs of personal objects from deceased loved ones are paired with prose to explore the human experience of life, death and memory. And the authors Bill Shapiro and Naomi Wax spent years interviewing hundreds of people and asking them about the most meaningful single object in their lives, gathering their stories in the book “What We Keep.”

As the pandemic continues to grip the nation, the Well desk will continue to wrestle with the large-scale grief that it leaves in its wake. Other features on this topic include resources for those who are grieving, the grief that’s associated with smaller losses, and how grief affects physical and psychological health. As for “What Loss Looks Like,” we are keeping the callout open, inviting more readers to submit objects of importance, to expand and grow this virtual memorial and provide a communal grieving space.

Complete Article HERE!

More pregnant women died and stillbirths increased steeply during the pandemic, studies show.

A nurse helping a pregnant woman at a hospital in Paris last November.

By Apoorva Mandavilli

More pregnant women died, experienced complications or delivered stillborn babies during the pandemic than in previous years, according to an analysis of 40 studies in 17 countries published on Wednesday in the journal Lancet Global Health.

Pregnant women face a heightened risk of severe illness and death if infected with the coronavirus. But the researchers, in Turkey and the United Kingdom, wanted to assess collateral damage from the pandemic on pregnancy and delivery, and so excluded from their analysis those studies that focused only on pregnant women who were infected.

Reviewing data on more than six million pregnancies, the investigators found evidence that disruptions to health care systems and patients’ fear of becoming infected at clinics may have led to avoidable deaths of mothers and babies, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Data from a dozen studies showed that the chances of a stillbirth increased by 28 percent. And the risk of women dying while pregnant or during childbirth increased by more than a third in two countries: Mexico and India. A subset of studies that assessed mental health showed that postpartum depression and anxiety were also heightened during the pandemic.

Nearly six times as many women needed surgery for ectopic pregnancies — in which a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus — during the pandemic than before. Ectopic pregnancies can be treated with medications if detected early, so the results suggest that the surgeries may have resulted from delays in care.

The analysis did not find differences in other conditions associated with pregnancy, like gestational diabetes or high blood pressure, or in the rates of cesarean sections or induced labor.

The rates of preterm birth also did not change significantly during the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries. But in high-income countries, preterm births fell by nearly 10 percent.

The drop may be a result of changes in health care delivery and in pregnant women’s behavior during the pandemic, the researchers said, indicating that the pandemic has exacerbated disparities between low- and high-income countries.

Complete Article HERE!

Death-oriented doc finds poetry amid pandemic

New Orleans’ famed jazz funerals a casualty of COVID-19

The documentary Death Is Our Business looks at how the pandemic altered jazz-funeral traditions in New Orleans.

By: David Zurawik

As we reached the one year mark this month of life under COVID-19, there has been no shortage of articles about how the virus has changed us. One of the most striking and still underappreciated ways it has done so is in our thinking as a society about death.

Prior to the pandemic, we were not a people who thought a lot about dying. I believe one of the primary reasons for that is that our popular culture, at least when it came to television, has generally avoided it.

One of the primary reasons for that: The commercial networks believed death was bad for business. I know that because multiple network executives have told me so over the years as if it were a truth handed down from a mountaintop on stone tablets, even though no one could supply research supporting that claim.

Death and destruction caused by COVID-19 have changed that situation dramatically, and I believe we are better for it. Existentialism says an awareness of death leads to a fuller and more authentic life. But you don’t have to be an existentialist to appreciate the way thinking about death can at least lead to a more thoughtful and focused life, driven by the awareness that our time on earth is limited.

I have written these past 12 months about several death-oriented, life-enriching shows, ranging from the Netflix series After Life, starring Ricky Gervais as a middle-aged journalist whose wife dies young, to Elizabeth Is Missing, a PBS movie starring Glenda Jackson as a woman with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease trying to solve the disappearance of her only friend. Both rattled around in my brain long after the final credits played. And now comes a Frontline documentary, Death Is Our Business (PBS, tonight, 9 p.m.), which has had the same kind of effect on my psyche. Images from it danced through my dreams earlier this week and I have been thinking continually about some of its themes.

The documentary by filmmaker Jacqueline Olive (Always in Season) looks at the way in which COVID-19 has changed centuries-old Black funeral practices and rituals in New Orleans. That includes horse-and-carriage processions, jazz musicians and the second line of dancers. The power of the film is found in both the poetry of its imagery and the deep, cultural context and analysis it offers of the African-influenced rituals that have branded New Orleans internationally and provided its Black citizens with a wealth of tradition on which to draw at times of sorrow and loss.

The film opens with a series of images carefully edited to the words sounded in voice-over by New Orleans psychiatrist Dr. Denese Shervington.

“New Orleans is this very complex combination of suffering and joy,” Dr. Shervington says.

On the word “suffering,” the screen fills with stark images of workers in masks handing out bags of clothing and food. On “joy,” images of young musicians dancing in sync on the street as they play their drums overtake the screen.

“Katrina forced us to think a lot about what it means to heal,” Dr. Shervington continues. “I think we’re having a similar experience with COVID and this pandemic. How do individuals come back from extreme loss, loss of family members, loss of what was normal? How do you find your way back?”

Dr. Shervington’s words immediately contextualize this community’s response to COVID-19 within the history of Hurricane Katrina, an event of disproportionate suffering by Black citizens in New Orleans. She also introduces the notions of resilience and healing in asking how to rebound from events like that.

In the film, jazz trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, a member of the famed musical family of New Orleans, offers a concrete way one of the funeral rituals of the city helps survivors come back from the loss of a loved one.

“The idea of the jazz funeral is actually to help the family,” he says in the film. “And the journey from the church to the burying ground is a process where you can not only reflect and think, but you have people who are there to support you.”

Olive says the jazz funeral has served multiple functions in Black life.

“One, it’s a way of transitioning the soul of the dead,” she says in an interview. “So, you have this sombre moment and then that turns into almost a street-festival celebration. That’s a way of cutting the body loose so it can transition to the other side.”

It also helps those left behind “to be able to deal with their grief collectively,” she says.

“They have people whose shoulders they can literally lean on,” she explains. “You see in the footage, folks hugging each other and supporting each other physically. But it also means people are sharing food and sharing space and stories about their loved ones.”

Marsalis felt the loss of that ritual at a personal level when his father Ellis, the patriarch of the family and an internationally celebrated jazz figure, died at the age of 85 last year as the pandemic worsened.

“He was buried April 4th,” Marsalis says in the film. “We had about 10 people there,” he adds, because of limits on how many mourners were allowed at a funeral at that time to stop spread of the virus.

It’s a much different look than prior to the pandemic.

“There would have been a second line and a jazz procession,” says Jasminne Navarre, director of client services for the D.W. Rhodes Funeral Home.

Louis Charbonnet III, CEO of Charbonnet, Labat-Glampion Funeral Home has similar sentiments: “We’re a jazz-funeral town, and it’s hard to tell people you can’t have a jazz funeral. But we have to.”

Even though the pandemic denied the Marsalis family the kind of grand New Orleans send-off residents wanted to give the pianist, there is a poignant moment in the film where Olive brilliantly creates a cinematic memorial for him.

She starts with the image and sound of Delfeayo Marsalis and two other musicians standing in a cemetery amid tombstones playing a slow, particularly mournful version of A Closer Walk With Thee. The music plays underneath the reciting of an excerpt of a poem written by Reynold Verret, president of Xavier University of Louisiana, in the wake of Marsalis’s death.

“Last night, Ellis Marsalis went away,” Verret says. “No second line. No coming home of acolytes, the many musician daughters and sons. None may return to ring the bell, to celebrate, to mourn. In solitude, we remember.”

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Olive brings the music, images and words together in a perfectly distilled cinematic brew that makes your heart ache at the loss of this musical giant’s life. This moment alone would make the film worth going out of the way to see.

“There would have been literally at least 15,000 people lined up for the Ellis Marsalis funeral,” Olive says.

The film goes well beyond memorializing Marsalis or any one New Orleans figure, though.

“When I finished filming, I really came to understand that this film is a memorial to all those folks who died during the pandemic in which their lives weren’t acknowledged in the way they often deserved,” Olive says.

Death Is Our Business is a tribute, too, to the power of the rich Black funeral traditions of New Orleans and the funeral directors who, like jazz musicians, have been improvising the last year to keep bits of music, dance and celebration into their services, as difficult as that has been in the face of COVID-19.

Complete Article HERE!

As death approaches, our dreams offer comfort, reconciliation

As death approaches, relationships can be resurrected, love revived and forgiveness achieved.

By

One of the most devastating elements of the coronavirus pandemic has been the inability to personally care for loved ones who have fallen ill.

Again and again, grieving relatives have testified to how much more devastating their loved one’s death was because they were unable to hold their family member’s hand – to provide a familiar and comforting presence in their final days and hours.

Some had to say their final goodbyes through smartphone screens held by a medical provider. Others resorted to using walkie-talkies or waving through windows.

How does one come to terms with the overwhelming grief and guilt over the thought of a loved one dying alone?

I don’t have an answer to this question. But the work of a hospice doctor named Christopher Kerr – with whom I co-authored the book “Death Is But a Dream: Finding Hope and Meaning at Life’s End” – might offer some consolation.

Unexpected visitors

At the start of his career, Dr. Kerr was tasked – like any and all physicians – with attending to the physical care of his patients. But he soon noticed a phenomenon that seasoned nurses were already accustomed to. As patients approached death, many had dreams and visions of deceased loved ones who came back to comfort them in their final days.

Doctors are typically trained to interpret these occurrences as drug-induced or delusional hallucinations that might warrant more medication or downright sedation.

But after seeing the peace and comfort these end-of-life experiences seemed to bring his patients, Dr. Kerr decided to pause and listen. One day, in 2005, a dying patient named Mary had one such vision: She began moving her arms as if rocking a baby, cooing at her child who had died in infancy decades prior.

To Dr. Kerr, this didn’t seem like cognitive decline. What if, he wondered, patients’ own perceptions at life’s end mattered to their well-being in ways that should not concern just nurses, chaplains and social workers?

What would medical care look like if all physicians stopped and listened, too?

The project begins

So at the sight of dying patients reaching and calling out to their loved ones – many of whom they had not seen, touched or heard for decades – he began collecting and recording testimonies given directly by those who were dying. Over the course of 10 years, he and his research team recorded the end-of-life experiences of 1,400 patients and families.

What he discovered astounded him. Over 80% of his patients – no matter what walk of life, background or age group they came from – had end-of-life experiences that seemed to entail more than just strange dreams. These were vivid, meaningful and transformative. And they always increased in frequency near death.

They included visions of long-lost mothers, fathers and relatives, as well as dead pets come back to comfort their former owners. They were about relationships resurrected, love revived and forgiveness achieved. They often brought reassurance and support, peace and acceptance.

Becoming a dream weaver

I first heard of Dr. Kerr’s research in a barn.

I was busy mucking my horse’s stall. The stables were on Dr. Kerr’s property, so we often discussed his work on the dreams and visions of his dying patients. He told me about his TEDx Talk on the topic, as well as the book project he was working on.

I couldn’t help but be moved by the work of this doctor and scientist. When he disclosed that he was not getting far with the writing, I offered to help. He hesitated at first. I was an English professor who was an expert in taking apart the stories others wrote, not in writing them myself. His agent was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to write in ways that were accessible to the public – something academics are not exactly known for. I persisted, and the rest is history.

It was this collaboration that turned me into a writer.

I was tasked with instilling more humanity into the remarkable medical intervention this scientific research represented, to put a human face on the statistical data that had already been published in medical journals.

The moving stories of Dr. Kerr’s encounters with his patients and their families confirmed how, in the words of the French Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne, “he who should teach men to die would at the same time teach them to live.”

I learned about Robert, who was losing Barbara, his wife of 60 years, and was assailed by conflicting feelings of guilt, despair and faith. One day, he inexplicably saw her reaching for the baby son they had lost decades ago, in a brief span of lucid dreaming that echoed Mary’s experience years earlier. Robert was struck by his wife’s calm demeanor and blissful smile. It was a moment of pure wholeness, one that transformed their experience of the dying process. Barbara was living her passing as a time of love regained, and seeing her comforted brought Robert some peace in the midst of his irredeemable loss.

For the elderly couples Dr. Kerr cared for, being separated by death after decades of togetherness was simply unfathomable. Joan’s recurring dreams and visions helped mend the deep wound left by her husband’s passing months earlier. She would call out to him at night and point to his presence during the day, including in moments of full and articulate lucidity. For her daughter Lisa, these occurrences grounded her in the knowledge that her parents’ bond was unbreakable. Her mother’s pre-death dreams and visions assisted Lisa in her own journey toward acceptance – a key element of processing loss.

When children are dying, it is often their beloved, deceased pets that make appearances. Thirteen-year-old Jessica, dying of a malignant form of bone-based cancer, started having visions of her former dog, Shadow. His presence reassured her. “I will be fine,” she told Dr. Kerr on one of his last visits.

For many kids, their only experience with death is with family pets, and the return of deceased animals can be comforting.

For Jessica’s mom, Kristen, these visions – and Jessica’s resulting tranquility – helped initiate the process she had been resisting: that of letting go.

Isolated but not alone

The health care system is difficult to change. Nevertheless, Dr. Kerr still hopes to help patients and their loved ones reclaim the dying process from a clinical approach to one that is appreciated as a rich and unique human experience.

Pre-death dreams and visions help fill the void that may otherwise be created by the doubt and fear that death evokes. They help the dying reunite with those they have loved and lost, those who secured them, affirmed them and brought them peace. They heal old wounds, restore dignity, and reclaim love. Knowing about this paradoxical reality helps the bereaved cope with grief as well.

As hospitals and nursing homes continue to remain closed to visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic, it may help to know that the dying rarely speak of being alone. They speak of being loved and put back together.

There is no substitute for being able to hold our loved ones in their last moments, but there may be solace in knowing that they were being held.

Complete Article HERE!

Dying a conscious death

Your dead body might be bad for the environment

By

As a young and seemingly invincible college student, one presumably does not put much thought into their inevitable death. However, if you are eco-conscious, perhaps it is time to start planning ahead.

The need to preserve one’s lifeless beauty for just a little bit longer has grave consequences for the earth. When a person dies, it is common for their body to be pumped with an embalming fluid that contains a mixture of toxic chemicals in order to postpone their inevitable decomposition. They are then placed in a casket that is likely made up of inorganic hardwood, copper, bronze, and steel. Their toxic body encased in a casket of unsustainable materials will eventually be lowered into the ground in a concrete crypt.

Green burials are a sustainable alternative to this contemporary western burial method. They may also be called “natural burials,” and the process does not involve any inhibition of decomposition. Instead, the body in its natural state is placed into the soil so that it can be recycled into the earth and help to nourish the land, as most decomposing life does. The body is wrapped in a biodegradable shroud or casket and then buried shallow enough to decay in a way that is similar to composting.

Craig Benson, an environmental science and management lecturer, said that the funeral and cemetery industry already appears to be responding to increasing requests for green burials.

“I would like to see more conservation burial options like the Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery near Gainesville, Florida,” Benson said. “This is where old restoration ecologists, like me, could make a last ditch effort– pun intended– at creating a contiguous savanna habitat and providing lots of underground munchies for the microfauna and microflora. Why have a feast at your funeral when you can be one!”

In the United States, cremation has recently become the most popular choice for those who pass away. While the ashes of our loved ones harbor sentimental value, this way of honoring the dead is unfortunately still harmful to the environment. Cremation leads to release of harmful toxins into the atmosphere, including carbon monoxide, fine soot, sulfur dioxide, heavy metals, and mercury emissions.

When asked about the environmental impact of cremation, Jennifer Kalt, the director of Humboldt Baykeeper, gave insight on the atmospheric consequences of the practice.

“I noticed that the Los Angeles Air Quality Board recently lifted the limits on cremations temporarily due to the number of COVID-19 deaths,” Kalt said. “I’ve read that cremation is a significant source of mercury pollution. Once it’s released into the atmosphere, it gets re-deposited by rain and fog. All that does make me wonder why people think cremation is a better option. My understanding of the green burial concept is that it prohibits embalming, but human bodies still have contaminants that we store up over lifetimes.”

There are a few local options for those who choose to give their body back to the earth. Cemeteries in Loleta, Fortuna, and Blue Lake all offer natural burial options. However, Blue Lake Cemetery is the only place that does not require the body to be contained in a concrete crypt.

Environmental conflict resolution lecturer Natalie Arroyo said that, in her personal opinion, green burials seem like a great end-of-life option for those who would like to practice sustainability even after they die. However, it is important to note that how humans deal with death is wholly intertwined with their cultural, religious, and personal values.

“I would say as a community member and lecturer who has read and heard a little bit about this, that green burials seem like an excellent alternative with environmental benefits,” Arroyo said. “But they may not fit with people’s religious and cultural values, and they may not suit every circumstance. For example, my own father died far away from home, and his body was cremated due to the low cost and need to transport the remains easily over a long distance.”

Complete Article HERE!

“He Thought The Idea Was Hilarious”

— Director Kirsten Johnson On “Killing” Her Father Repeatedly In ‘Dick Johnson Is Dead’

Kirsten Johnson directs a scene with her dad for the new documentary, “Dick Johnson Is Dead.”

By Matthew Carey

The Oscar documentary shortlist abounds with memorable love stories—between a woman and her incarcerated husband in Time, between a man and a mollusk in My Octopus Teacher, and in Dick Johnson Is Dead, between a daughter and her aging father.

Of those three films, Dick Johnson Is Dead qualifies as the most unusual stylistically. Director Kirsten Johnson, faced with her beloved father’s cognitive decline, conceived various outlandish scenarios in which her dad might die, and then filmed them.

“The premise of the movie is that we were going to kill my father over and over again with the help of stunt people until he really died for real. Why? Because we wanted to keep bringing him back to life,” Johnson tells Deadline. “I think we desperately needed to laugh because dementia will rip your heart out and you could just cry for decades if you didn’t find a way to laugh at it.”

In one scene, an air conditioner falls from high above on top over her father, crushing him. In another he takes an awful tumble down a flight of stairs, ending up in a twisted heap. Dick Johnson, a man with a genial disposition, takes part in this filmic experiment with endearing enthusiasm.

“I think cinema is play. And my father is ‘game,’ he’s game to participate in this,” Johnson comments. “He thought the idea was hilarious and it was like, ‘Okay, we’re doing this.’”

Before encroaching dementia prompted his retirement, Dick Johnson worked for decades as a psychiatrist. Perhaps appropriately, the subconscious mind informed the documentary from the start.

“I had this crazy dream where there was this casket and a man sat up—it wasn’t my dad—he said, ‘I’m Dick Johnson and I’m not dead yet,’” the director recalls. “I probably did unconsciously understand that the dementia had begun. I wasn’t consciously aware of it at that moment, but I think in the way that dreams and brains try to tell you things, now when I think about it, it was an unrecognizable man who was my father, which is sort of what the dementia would do. I think in some ways that dream was like, ‘Wake up! Your dad is changing.’”

Johnson had previously gone through the agonizing experience of losing her mother to Alzheimer’s.

“Honestly, I was like so mad to have had my mom already have it. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I was sort of enraged at the idea of having to face it again,” she confesses. “It just felt like, ‘Let me come up with another plan, another idea, another way,’ this Holy Grail of, ‘Could this be a funny movie? Please?’ We had some fun doing it and we had some tears doing it.”

The Netflix film, a strong contender for an Oscar nomination, premiered last January at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won a special jury award for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling. It’s gone on to win multiple honors, including Best Documentary at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, as well as best writing for Johnson and Nels Bangerter and best editing for Bangerter at the IDA Documentary Awards. Dick Johnson Is Dead was named one of the top five documentaries of the year by the National Board of Review and has earned a Producers Guild Award nomination.

On paper, the concept of the film might strike some as morbid. But audiences have responded emotionally to the film’s whimsical and yet somehow frank way of confronting the prospect of a loved one’s demise.

“From my point of view, facing pain—when you can do it with people you love and with the capacity to attempt to build something new out of it, whether it’s a new relationship or whether it is transformed into some form of art—I think that that is the only hope we have,” Johnson observes. “That, in some ways, is how we have survived as people—we sort of offer back out to each other these forms or witness.”

Dick Johnson Is Dead resonates forcefully in a time when Covid-19 has claimed so many lives.

“The pandemic in some ways has opened every human up to the experience of anticipatory grief. We don’t know how much we’re going to lose and we’re afraid of how much we’re going to lose,” Johnson says. “If you love a person with a degenerative disease [like dementia] you have a great deal of experience with anticipatory grief. You’re grieving about what you’ve lost already, what you might lose, what you’re not sure when you’re going to lose.”

That’s particularly difficult to contemplate in Johnson’s case, having a father who’s meant everything to her.

“He has treasured me for the person that I am and allowed me to be sort of as big as I wanted to be…He saw me. I think so many of us struggle with not being seen or not being allowed,” Johnson tells Deadline. “That’s who he is and who he was. Even in the advanced dementia now he’ll call me and say, ‘I just want to make sure you know I love you.’”

Complete Article HERE!

Pandemic grief could become its own health crisis

By Hope Edelman

As the nation mourns more than 500,000 lives lost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, another pandemic wave is building — of grief. It poses a potential public health crisis of its own.

For the past century, Americans’ response to grief has been to minimize its impact and suppress the emotional pain. We treat grieving as an individual affair, with mourners responsible for “getting over” their losses, mostly in private. Social isolation during the pandemic has made grieving even more solitary.

But grief wasn’t always treated this way. For centuries, communities came together to mourn the passing of an individual as a loss to the polity. Victorian mourning practices were extravagant social affairs involving rituals that the bereaved and fellow citizens followed for months, sometimes years, after a death.

Then came the one-two punch of World War I and the 1918 influenza pandemic. With so many deaths occurring so fast, mourning rituals became prohibitively expensive and social mourning was effectively impossible to maintain. Like today, large public gatherings were prohibited and quarantines enforced. Funerals shrank in size, mourning periods contracted and families were left to grieve in isolation. By the 1920s, grief in America had largely gone underground.

A century later, grief is again a widespread issue. With each covid-19 death affecting an estimated nine survivors, more than 4.5 million Americans are grieving loved ones lost to the virus. Beyond deaths to other causes, there were additional U.S. fatalities last year: gatherings with family and friends, classroom learning, millions of jobs that won’t return. Collectively, we lost a way of life in 2020.

Yet there has been no sustained outpouring of public support for mourners, as happened after the devastation of 9/11. Instead of a broad acknowledgment of mass distress, our nation has been mute with grief. Pandemic skepticism has also disparaged the losses some have experienced.

This is a precarious state for a nation. Grief is cyclical, especially around anniversary dates. Even under optimal conditions, many mourners experience a dip in functioning at the one-year mark. We should expect this to happen, starting this month, with the one-year anniversaries of the first wave of pandemic deaths and lockdowns. One year isn’t far on the long arc of adjustment, but it’s well beyond the point that most people expect visible evidence of mourning to last. Collectively failing to grant each other permission to express distress beyond the first weeks after a loss can have profound health consequences.

In children and teens, unaddressed grief can manifest as trouble sleeping, depression, anxiety, behavior issues and lower self-esteem, a 2015 study found. Research from 2018 found it leads to aggression and academic or work struggles. In adults, unaddressed grief can manifest as depression, anger, anxiety, and substance use and abuse. Medical research has linked unaddressed and suppressed emotions to a host of physical ailments later in life, including hypertension and autoimmune disorders.

President Biden’s remarks on Monday, acknowledging not just the lives lost but also the loved ones mourning, are a good start. In addition to promoting professional help, there are steps that we citizens can take to address this siloed bereavement and help head off a looming public health crisis.

We can start by viewing grief support as part of our essential social contract. Those who are grieving need acknowledgment and understanding from family and friends. This starts with taking their losses seriously and accepting their reactions. Listening to their stories of a loved one’s life and death with compassion, instead of judgment, is key; so is confirming the coronavirus’s threat to human health if their loved one died of covid.

As in 1918, public health restrictions have affected the rituals people typically rely on for comfort and support. Funerals have again become stripped-down facsimiles, with some long-standing ethnic and religious traditions abbreviated or abandoned. Some families have postponed memorial services — and their own expressions of grief — in favor of planning to hold shows of respect when groups can again gather safely.

Today’s mourners should be helped to hold on to whatever rituals remain, even if that means attending a memorial service two years after a death. Rituals allow people to draw on the comforts of the past while projecting a loved one’s influence forward.

New rituals can be developed, too. Even repetitive, everyday acts such as drinking morning coffee from a mother’s favorite mug or touching a loved one’s framed photo when passing by can bring comfort if performed with intention. Folding the memory or values of a lost loved one into new traditions is a way to continue honoring the lives they lived.

Finally, participating in public acknowledgements of those who have died provides a larger meaning and context for the half-million deaths that otherwise risk being minimized or, worse, forgotten.

Everyone eventually loses someone dear, some of us sooner rather than later. Mourners’ unexpressed distress can manifest in them physically and in their interactions with others — in how they work, raise children and create policy. Validating and supporting the bereaved at the time of loss is not just the compassionate thing to do — it’s a necessary investment in the collective good.

Complete Article HERE!