For weeks after Cindy Pollock began hanging small flags in her yard, one for each of the more than 1,800 Idahoans killed from COVID-19, the count was mostly a number. Until two strangers bathed in tears rang her doorbell looking for a place to mourn the death of the husband and father they had just lost.
There Pollock learned that his tribute, sincere as it was, was never going to express the pain of a pandemic that has now claimed nearly 500,000 lives in the United States.
“I just wanted to hug them,” he said. “Because it was the only thing I could do.”
After a year that has darkened doors across the United States, the pandemic is about to surpass a threshold that once seemed unimaginable, a reminder that the virus reaches every corner of the country and to communities of all sizes and constitutions.
“It’s very difficult for me to imagine an American who doesn’t know someone who has died or has a relative who has died,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We haven’t really understood how bad it is, how devastating it is, for all of us.”
Experts warn that there are likely to be more than 100,000 more deaths in the coming months, despite the massive vaccination campaign. Meanwhile, the country’s trauma continues to accumulate in unprecedented ways, said Donna Schuurman of the Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families in Portland, Oregon.
In other times of great loss, such as the attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have come together to face the crisis and comfort the survivors. But this time, the nation is deeply divided. There are an overwhelming number of families dealing with death, severe illness, and financial crisis. And many have to approach it in isolation, unable even to organize funerals.
“In a way, we are all in mourning,” said Schuurman, who has given therapy to relatives of those killed in terrorist attacks, natural disasters and school massacres.