COVID-19 (& MBC): Are we becoming numb to the deaths, the numbers & the grief?
This pandemic is forcing us as a society to talk about death, to see death, to feel death. Death is in our faces like never before. Sadly, many have experienced a COVID-19 death on a deeply personal level. So many have had loved ones die.
What about the rest of us?
Sure, we hear about and see images of death happening around us, but do we really see it? Do we really get it?
Despite constantly hearing in the media and elsewhere things like, we’re all in this together, the majority of us remain relatively safe. The majority of us are yet untouched by death from this virus.
So, are we really all in this together?
In some ways, yes. In others, definitely not.
Gordon Marino, a professor of philosophy and director of the Hong/Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College, writes the following in his excellent commentary in the Common Weal titled, Take It Personally:
For most of us safely quarantining at home with the help of Zoom and Netflix, the pandemic’s body count may seem as abstract as the casualties of a war fought on foreign soil. Bombarded with bad news, we shake our heads and look for some distraction to calm or amuse us. Maybe a YouTube concert, maybe Tiger King. We do our best to keep up with the latest advice from medical experts, or the moving accounts of health-care workers on the front lines, but after a while we—or at least I—become inured to the shots of bodies stacked in freezers.
For those of us who have not experienced the death of a loved one or someone we know from COVID-19, we must not become numb to the deaths, the numbers or the grief.
So yes, we must take it personally, or at least try to.
We’ve all seen the boxes on the right side or bottom of our TV screens, the boxes that keep track of the number of COVID-19 deaths. Marino aptly calls them death tickers. There’s the global tally. And the US tally. The numbers keep ticking up.
I remember when the first death was reported back in late February. Dear Hubby and I were on vacation. The death was noteworthy, but no one was panicking. We had no idea about the avalanche ahead. No one did.
As I hit the publish button, it appears today is the day the number of US deaths will likely reach the 100,000 mark. This coincidence is humbling, but mostly, it’s heartbreaking.
What an astonishing climb in just a few months. It’s hard to get your head around it. It’s hard, maybe even impossible, to comprehend the magnitude of what those numbers represent. The grief. So much grief.
And yet, we must try. We cannot become numb to the numbers, the deaths, the grief.
Every number is a name, a person. Every name has a family. Every death represents an empty seat, a hug not given, smiles not seen, a voice not heard, a life cut short. Every death matters. Every. Single. One.
These staggering numbers cannot become normalized and certainly should never be twisted or touted as any kind of success.
We must not stop being shocked. We must not shield ourselves from unthinkable heartache others are enduring. We must not become numb.
Sometimes, I fear we are doing exactly that, growing numb. I fear we are adapting a bit too easily to seeing and hearing those numbers.
After all, we are good at adapting. Being adaptable is a good thing in many scenarios, but in this one, it is not.
This reminds me of metastatic breast cancer death numbers; yes, perhaps there is yet another parallel to be made here.
This year, 41,000 women and men will likely die from metastatic breast cancer. This is another number we hear. Year after year. Actually, decade after decade at this point. We’ve heard it so many times.
Have we become numb to these numbers too?
I think we have.
Perhaps there is indeed a parallel here if one is willing to see it.
When will this pandemic end?
So much about this virus remains unknown. So much about our future is uncertain.
No matter when that end comes, we must never become numb to the numbers, the deaths. We must not become numb to grief.
If we are not personally impacted by the death of a loved one from COVID-19 (or from metastatic breast cancer), our job is to witness. To remember. To feel.
Our job is also to act.
As Marino reminds us, feelings are not enough; feelings should result in a call to do something to make things better:
The proper response to the pandemic is not mainly a matter of feelings but of political action aimed at protecting the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters, those who have no choice but to risk their lives working at the dollar store or the local meat-packing plant. Do that and maybe then we’ll have a right to say, “We’re all in this together.”
Whether we are speaking about metastatic breast cancer or COVID-19 (or a host of other issues as well), first we need to feel, and then we need to act.
In order to do either…
We must never become numb.
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Do you think people are becoming numb to the staggering number of deaths from COVID-19?
Do you think people have become numb to mbc death numbers as well?
If so, what can we do about it?
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