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Can I Just Tell You: With So Much To Mourn, We Must Allow Time To Grieve

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, I wanted to say a few more words about grief. I've been thinking about this in part because, as our previous guest said, there is a lot to mourn in this country - nearly 600,000 people dead in this country from COVID-19. And if you widen your lens to the rest of the world, that's nearly 4 million people who, but for COVID, would and should still be around for family dinners and stupid arguments and birthday parties and everything else. And those numbers don't even include what you might call the collateral damage, the people whose family lives or financial security or mental health fell apart because they lost their jobs or because they couldn't take the isolation or they started drinking and using drugs again. The loss is going to be hard to calculate truly.

And this is not, as we've said many times, a burden that has been borne equally. You can tell in the continued obstinacy and even belligerence from some about the measures to contain the virus that it isn't just a matter of scientific ignorance, and it may not even be a straightforward matter of political advantage. Maybe some of it is just distance. For whatever reason for many, many people, it just didn't seem real. So they couldn't just see taking extraordinary measures or even inconveniencing themselves very much for something they didn't see in front of them or, sad to say, for people they didn't care about that much.

Can I just tell you, I think that applies to many more circumstances than we are willing to admit. I think this could be the source of much pain and even rage, because we're not good at expressing or managing grief in this country. We are a people who are always telling ourselves to get over it, whatever it is. And we worship the individual, the great I, so we don't really know how to think about or talk about something that doesn't involve us directly. And we don't know how to talk about the past without glorifying or obliterating it.

I'll give you an example. A friend of mine born and raised in the West said he got a chance to go home for the first time in who knows how long. And the first chance he got, he went on his favorite hike. It wasn't at all as he had remembered it. He said when he was a kid, he could go with his family, and they would feel like the trail was all theirs. But now, now, there are all these other people there. It came as a shock, and he was struggling not to be mad about it, to be mad at those people for being there. Although he knew in his rational mind that they had as much right to experience it as he did, still, for one brief flaming minute, he wanted them gone.

I think what he was feeling was grief. All over this country, people are feeling grief at what they have lost, but they've lost different things, some of which were theirs to begin with and some of which never were. But they feel it all the same. The question then becomes, what to do about it. I sometimes think people have to narrow an idea about what it means to mourn. Does it mean a permanent state of sadness? Does it have to work its way into a rage and an ongoing search for someone or something to blame? Or can it be something like what my friend experienced, a commitment to telling the truth to himself, a reckoning, and then in his case, going on that hike anyway?

Memorial Day is tomorrow. It's a day to honor the memories of those who died serving the country in uniform. This week will also mark the 100-year anniversary of a hideous chapter in the life of this country, the Tulsa race massacre, which will also be a time to honor lives lost in a different way, a terrible way, a way that this country has tried to forget. It's going to be a painful couple of days for many people, but I'm going to argue it is necessary because there is a time to weep, because without it, there can be no time to rejoice.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEVEN C.'S "SOMETIMES IT SNOWS IN APRIL (PIANO VERSION)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.