We see the numbers on a daily basis. How many have died from COVID, to date, we all probably know is more than 372,000 in the United States alone. The number who have had the disease and survived is a bit more murky, because not all cases are detected or reported. We know how many have been vaccinated: about 40% of eligible Americans have had at least one dose so far and about one in four Americans have received both doses. We all have been making the push to that finish line to be rewarded with a 94% immunity from COVID.
The number that has not been broadcast as much, if at all, is the number of people who have lost a loved one to COVID…not just known of someone as almost all of us do. The number of people who have lost a dear family member or friend is estimated to be about nine individuals for every person who has succumbed to COVID. Do the math for our own domestic turf, and that is well over 3 million Americans who have been … and likely continue to be … grieving for a loved one who has died.
Some people may say that these losses … well … just happen, and people eventually get over it or through it. Hold that thought, because scientists have studied the biological effects of grief and found that grieving is actually life-threatening. Sure, we probably all realize that grief can lead to depression which is not to be taken at all lightly. But it also leads to changes in the immune system and it triggers inflammation in the entire body. Chronic inflammation in the body also can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes (type 2) and even some forms of cancer. We don’t see this from the outside, but it is analogous to instantly becoming morbidly obese; grieving is the same kind of ticking time bomb.
So, what can we do if we have had this kind of loss or know someone who has lost a loved one? A grieving person will not move beyond that sense of loss, but they will – often with professional help – move forward able to retain a loving memory that walks alongside the loss. So, people don’t get over grief nearly so much as learn to move forward with it.
Lora McInerny is the host of a really helpful web site whose name speaks volumes. It is titled, “Terrible. Thanks for Asking.” She had been through a deep personal loss, and had just a few too many people ask the wrong question, “How are you doing?” Some even chimed in with the cliché, “These things happen for a reason.” A better question can be “What did you do today…or yesterday?” or “What have you been doing?” You get the picture. If you have not experienced a loss, there is a good chance that you know someone who has. I recommend you visit the web site. Make someone’s day better.
Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.