Lamenting and Mourning the 100k Americans Who Have Died of COVID-19

A call to join in a day of remembrance and prayer for healing
May 26, 2020Reform Movement Leadership

See "One by One: A Prayer as the COVID-19 Death Toll Mounts," an original prayer from liturgist Alden Solovy, to accompany this message.

Our nation will soon pass a grievous point in history: 100,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19. As people of faith, we cannot allow this grim number to go unnoticed. Always and everywhere, it is the duty of religious communities to remember the dead and mourn their passing. From generation to generation, we have been given this task: to speak their names and honor their lives. One hundred thousand dead Americans from COVID-19 shall not pass by unmarked and unlamented. 

It is hard to comprehend the magnitude of deaths in so short a time. The past three months have been some of the deadliest months in US history, and Americans have endured more deaths than those who died in many of our wars, as we have just memorialized last weekend. At 100,000 deaths COVID-19 becomes the fifth most deadly event in US history. There are enough dead to fill even our largest stadiums, and the equivalent of whole towns and cities. The pandemic now ranks among those moments in the life of our nation that are marked by national remembrances, somber memorials, and moving tributes. As people of faith, we cannot let this moment pass unnoticed. The nation must be given the chance to mourn, lament, and remember the dead. 

The rapid spread of the disease, the scope of its impact, and the mitigation through “social distancing” has prevented the time or space for us to grieve. It has been impossible to bury our dead as people have for thousands of years – communally and intimately with friends, family, and neighbors. As religious leaders, we are deeply connected with our nation’s pain. We need time to stop, reflect, pray, mourn, and honor the individuals – but also collectively as a nation. 

To meet this need, the Reform Jewish community joins with religious communities across the country in acting in unprecedented unity. People of faith and others of good will gather together to mourn, memorialize, and remember their lives both in our diverse faith traditions and in our public squares. And together, we will pray for the healing of our nation. 

This weekend, America’s religious communities will gather for the first time following this grim 100,000 marker – many of us still virtually – and iin keeping with our own traditions and practices, each mourn our dead and to pray for the healing of our nation.

On Friday and Saturday, we Jews will remember God’s covenant as we celebrate Shavuot and read yizkhor (remembrance) prayers. On Friday, with Ramadan finished, our Muslim friends will remember the reception of the Quran; on Sunday, our Christian friends will observe Pentecost Sunday. Our communities will name, honor, lament, and offer our tributes to the lives and families of those who have died. 

But religious communities do not act alone. We call, too on political leaders – the president, senators and members of Congress, governors, and mayors – to lead a national day of prayer and remembrance 

on Monday, June 1st, at noon local time, to pause to remember those who have died. It is appropriate for flags to be lowered and to observe moments of silence, mourning, memorial, prayer, reflection, and bell ringing.

We will stop. We will remember. We will mourn and honor our dead. We will pray for the healing of the nation. 

In keeping with this national weekend of remembrance, we invite Americans to use social media and all other communication platforms to post prayers and laments, names, photos, and tributes to those who have died of the coronavirus in the United States. In many civic spaces, outside places of worship and outside of our homes, groups or individuals may place empty chairs with the names, dates, and photos as tribute and remembrance to those who are no longer with us. 

We ask God to help heal our land with a moment of mourning and honoring those many who have died, often without their loved ones around them.  We come together both to weep and to rejoice for those lives which have been lost. We mourn the loss of so many humble Americans and ordinary citizens, known only to families and friends, coworkers and neighbors. We mourn family members and friends whom we loved; worked and worshipped with; ate, played, and prayed with; important members of our communities, some who were on the front lines of caring for and serving others; and those we passed on the street with a smile and nod. We will mourn with families who have not been able to memorialize, mourn, or properly bury their COVID-19 dead.  

We will also honor hard truths we have learned during this pandemic: Our suffering has been unequal, elders have been vulnerable and alone, black and brown neighbors have borne disproportionately both the brunt of sickness and death and having been drafted to the frontlines of fighting this disease. Native communities, our lands original caretakers, have been particularly hard-hit – as they have been so many times in the past. Asian Americans have been targeted by hateful words and actions. Our prayers for the healing of the nation must acknowledge the brokenness of our democracy and rededicate ourselves to repair the injustices this pandemic has revealed, even as we do the healing of those who are afflicted with the virus 

And this vocation of the faith community to stop, name, feel, remember, memorialize, and pray for the dead, their families and their friends; unites all our traditions and transcends our politics.

This momentous and tragic 100,000 marker will not be an empty data point on death's grim graph; rather we will remember those whom we loved and pray for both healing and hope – for our nation and the world. As a people we have borne this pandemic's cost in the lives of our loved ones; as a nation we shall honor and mourn them together.  

As faith leaders we must help to lead our congregations, communities, and country in this time of grief and lament in a way that will lead us forward more united as a country to address the very real challenges we face ahead. And that we must do together. 

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Editor Note: The American death toll has surpassed 150,000 since the time this article was publish and continues to rise.

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