According to Worldometer at the time I write this, 92,072 Americans have died of COVID-19.
Yet, we aren’t doing national days of mourning. In fact, many people don’t even seem upset by those numbers. Instead, we’re stressed out by finances, worried about ourselves, our family, and our friends. But we aren’t, as a whole, mourning (with the exception of those who have lost a family member or friend).
Are we really that callous as a nation? Or is something else going on?
The Stages of Grief
There are five stages of grief:
We don’t necessarily go through all of these or go through them in the same order. We don’t stay in them for the same length of time. But the end of the journey is acceptance — the final acknowledgment that the thing or person being grieved is indeed gone.
If you look around…or spend 5 minutes on Facebook…you’ll see people hanging out in all of the first four.
“It’s a hoax” — Denial
“If we just all stay home until there’s a vaccine it will be okay” — Bargaining
“I hate people who don’t wear masks”-Anger
“I just can’t go on”-Depression
And some people might be expressing more than one of these at the same time.
But what you won’t be seeing as much of is acceptance.
So, why is that?
You Can’t Accept Something Until It’s Over
This isn’t over yet.
9/11 killed over 3,000 people, far less, but it did so in one singular event. It happened and then it was over. The ramifications may still be with us, but the planes didn’t take several months to hit the towers.
We are sitting here not knowing who else is going to die, not knowing what those end numbers are going to be. Not knowing, in some cases, whether we will have a job after this. Whether our favorite restaurant will still be open. When we will be able to visit our family.
And it’s not going to be “over” for months.
That makes it hard to move onto the acceptance stage, and true mourning requires acceptance. There’s a reason many cultures have memorial services a year after the person dies, or reburial services, or dumb suppers. It’s to give people time to get to acceptance before closure.
There’s a reason why “missing” can be a harder word than “dead.”
Our society is a missing person and we don’t know what of it we’re going to get back. We can’t mourn properly until we know what we are mourning.
The Numbers are Just Too High
There’s another aspect to this too: The numbers are too high.
It’s easy to grasp a few people dying. We can even manage a couple of thousand. Over 90,000? That’s more than our primate brains can realistically deal with.
So we shut it down. We ignore it and keep moving. It’s not callous, it’s just how our brains work. Until somebody we know dies, it’s just a number.
Humans can only have about 150 meaningful connections with others, tops.
We just don’t have a connection to that number.
After all of this is over, after the pandemic is under control and COVID is just another disease we don’t worry any more about than we do the flu, perhaps then we’ll have a day of mourning. Or perhaps not, perhaps it will still all be too much.
We will rebuild our lives, we will restore our way of life, we will reconstruct the economy. We will go to sports games again.
And we will mourn.
But we can’t do it yet.
Because it’s not over.