America Needs to Grieve - OZY | A Modern Media Company

America Needs to Grieve

America Needs to Grieve

By Joy Nesbitt



Because we cannot move forward until we collectively mourn.

By Joy Nesbitt

This year, I’ve watched the televised funerals for George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, both victims of police brutality. As a Black woman, these services provided me the time and space to grieve the innocent deaths of Black Americans at the hands of the police, and in a way, it served as a space for me to process all of the murders that have sparked nationwide protests. As I reflect upon these grief-fueled moments, I realize that Americans have not had any sort of national funeral or memorial for the lives we’ve lost in the past few months amid the pandemic, and it’s impeding our clarity on ways to move forward. 

The U.S. has lost more than 130,000 lives (and counting) to COVID-19 — in addition to the scores killed by police brutality this year. News outlets and social media are unrelenting in their coverage of these atrocities. This coverage is important to wake us up, but we are now halfway through 2020, and we have become overexposed. We’ve lost loved ones, neighbors and colleagues, and yet, grieving is postponed by the fresh statistics taking us to new lows each day. 

The unique stress of 2020 is pitching the country further into an already rampant mental health crisis. In April, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that around 45 percent of U.S. adults say that “worry and stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic are hurting their mental health.” Since then, racial violence and COVID-19 deaths have exacerbated things. Meanwhile, our leaders and media have been moving forward, furiously looking for answers to the nation’s greatest problems. 

Simultaneously, politics has many among us questioning the recommended protection: masks. President Trump has repeatedly refused to wear a mask because he feels that he’s not in danger. This emboldens some of the president’s supporters to similarly abstain from wearing face coverings in solidarity and as a reflection of their political beliefs. This politicization of the mask amid a pandemic distracts us from the main issue, ensuring that more will needlessly die.

To move forward as a nation, we need space to grieve properly, and to recognize those who have died. Stress and worry have extreme adverse effects on decision-making and on our demeanor. Amy Arnsten, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the Yale University School of Medicine, writes that stress neurologically leads to impulsive action and that “impulsivity is likely to worsen patterns of behavior that produce the stress in the first place, inducing a vicious cycle.” These emotions make it almost impossible for Americans to move forward in support of or against the decisions our leaders are making. 

But could grieving help? Psychotherapist Amy Morin explains that “grief is a process by which we heal, and how we think through the things we feel.” The Northeastern University psychology lecturer has dedicated much of her work to the power of grief after losing her mother and husband when she was a young woman. She notes that the center of grief is uncertainty and longing for what could have been. “When I lost my husband, I didn’t miss him as much as I missed the life that we were hoping to have together,” she explains.

That’s exactly what America is experiencing. We miss the lives we could have lived, we miss those we’ve lost, and we are completely unsure about our collective future. To move forward, we need to move toward acceptance. We need to accept that we have lost a lot of lives. We need to accept that the lives we used to live are forever changed. We need to accept responsibility in making decisions to protect ourselves and our community against this rampant virus without political nonsense. 

A funeral is one way to facilitate such acceptance. Morin comments that a funeral serves as “a more tangible way of honoring someone or something.” And a national funeral or memorial service might give us that space to honor those memories and continue processing our losses. “We need a memorial to provide a meeting space to talk about the things and people that we miss,” Morin added.

Mass meetings are obviously dangerous at the moment, so for now, Morin says, a day of remembrance similar to Memorial Day may be the answer. If Americans are given the national day without having to work, we may “give ourselves time to work through those emotions without escaping them,” she adds.

We need a day of remembrance (framed with collective safety in mind) to mourn those we’ve lost and ensure that they did not die in vain.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories