I am writing this after hearing a fresh batch of stark and shocking news — yet another reminder of the psychological and social costs that await us in the post-pandemic world. The world’s COVID-19 death toll is nearing yet another once-unthinkable number. As reported by The New York Times, “Nearly three million people have died from the virus since the first cases surfaced more than 14 months ago.” The final tally will be even larger.
As Allison Gilbert, who has written extensively about grief and resilience, states in a recent New York Times opinion piece, “The still growing death toll will leave behind millions of bereaved people, wracked by the suffering that the loss of a loved one can bring.” According to an algorithm developed by Ashton Verdery, an associate professor of sociology and demography at Pennsylvania State University, for every person who dies of COVID-19, nine loved ones are left behind. “A recent study found that at least 37,000 children in the United States have lost a parent to COVID-19 so far,” writes Gilbert. “That grief plays out in waves across one’s life and has no clear ending.” The effects of grief can be as physical as the symptoms of any disease, and the social effects can be drastic as well, she adds.
“Experts and grief organizations are asking American leaders to address this growing crisis,” Gilbert says. “Grass-roots groups like Covid Survivors for Change and Marked by Covid have lobbied at the state and federal levels for accountability to relatives of victims.”
“Grief should be investigated the same way we examine other public health indicators like obesity, smoking and drinking,” Toni Miles, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia, explains to Gilbert. A White House office of bereavement care is among the remedies.
What seems clear is that we all have a lot to learn in how we help ourselves and others in navigating the profoundly human process of grief and in helping one another through the times ahead. It is as if we find ourselves constantly at a crossroads with two emotional paths before us. One leads to grief, shared or personal. The other leads to a sense of gratitude for the hope provided by the deeds of others.
The story of Louis Goffinet is a case in point. You may have heard of him. He is a 27-year-old middle school teacher from Mansfield, Connecticut. When the pandemic hit last year, he sprang into action. As reported by the Hartford Courant and others, he started grocery shopping for his older neighbors who were leery of going to the store for fear of catching the virus. Initially spending his own money on these shopping trips, he soon realized people could use more help and started raising money on Facebook. His initial goal was to raise $200. Soon, he had raised more than $41,000.
The money translated to a reported 250 grocery trips and family dinners, 31 Thanksgiving meals, rent for several families and holiday gifts for kids. Then, as a cynical reminder that “no good deed goes unpunished” — that life is unfair and that people can do or try to do good things and still end up in a lot of trouble — he got the news. Facebook is required to report fundraising in amounts that exceed $20,000 as personal income. Goffinet was slapped with $16,000 in taxes on the money he had raised. He is said to have talked with a tax attorney and several accountants to see if there was anything they could do to help, but to no such luck.
But the thing that inspires me is that Goffinet has told reporters he is now looking for other ways he might help his community with the hope that he will find his way out of his financial predicament. I am grateful to live in a country filled with people like Louis Goffinet. Personal stories such as his heighten the idea that we help one another through the tough times.
“These days, I’m swimming between gratitude and grief,” says Allison Lynn in a recent commentary that ran in the Canadian Christian publication Anglican Journal. Lynn is part of the award-winning husband-and-wife duo Infinitely More, known for their folk- and gospel-infused sound, traveling the country and “sharing God’s love through music.” Normally, Lynn and her husband would be visiting every single province, performing over 100 events annually. “But that was before the world fell apart,” she writes. Instead, she has “an empty tour calendar, an unclear vision of the future, and unexpected waves of anxiety over the safety of our world. ... My emotions are a mess these days.”
“But isn’t it in that in-between space where most of life actually happens?” she adds. “Struggle and overcoming happen in the mess. It’s where we grow, expand our perspective, and discover new views of the world. It’s in the mess where we learn compassion, empathy and generosity. Maybe this mess of Gratitude and Grief is exactly where we need to be right now? Maybe it’s only in this space where we can gain the fullest and most loving perception of our reality.”