During COVID-19, few public expressions of collective grief

Even though more than 280,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, the pandemic has not resulted in the same kind of visible mourning that occurred after past national tragedies, such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, say experts.

One reason may be that the coronavirus has prevented people from coming together in person to mourn, according to Christy Denckla, a research associate in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Mourning and grief occur in groups,” she said in a December 2, 2020, article in Elemental. “Traditionally people gather in some way physically to mourn and grieve and collectively support one another. That’s of course impossible in Covid. So some of the very natural or typical ways that people might gather to commemorate loss and grief are impossible now.” She added that previous national tragedies had a distinct end point—in contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing.

Denckla would like to see a concerted public health response to the nation’s grief. “I think the first thing to do is…to acknowledge the loss, to acknowledge the grief, to acknowledge the pain,” she said, noting that public validation and acknowledgement of losses “can set a foundation for starting to mourn and to grieve and to heal.”

Denckla was also interviewed by NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly on December 14 on the importance of people connecting after the death of a loved one.

Read the Elemental article: More Than 250,000 Are Dead. Why Is There So Little Collective Grief?

Read or listen to the NPR article: Psychologist On Why Funerals Are Fundamental To Processing Grief

Learn more

How the Discomfort of Grief Can Help Us: Recognizing and Adapting to Loss During the COVID-19 Outbreak (Harvard Chan School webcast)