fb-pixelWe need a National Day of Mourning - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

We need a National Day of Mourning

Without acknowledging the losses to COVID-19, we will not be able to truly heal.

A young girl looks at a memorial in the front of Amaral’s Central Market, a pillar of Fall River's Portuguese community. We need a day to mourn and to remember those who have been lost to the coronavirus.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Join people around the country at 12 p.m. ET on June 1 in taking a moment of silence to honor those who have died of COVID-19.

Three days after thousands of lives were lost on 9/11, the United States marked a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. Church bells rang out. Candlelight vigils lit up the darkest of nights. People gathered in houses of worship and on street corners to mourn — and to remember.

Three days after the Boston Marathon bombings, as hundreds of gravely injured remained in nearby hospitals, an interfaith prayer service brought a measure of comfort and healing to a city that grieved as one. “Even when our heart aches, we summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had. We finish the race,” President Obama said at that service.


As a nation, as a people we have always found solace in the ritual of mourning and of remembrance: the candles, the church bells, the gentle words, the flowers left to mark a spot where a life ended. When tragedy strikes — a terror attack, a natural disaster, a lone gunman with his sights set on an elementary school filled with children — we take the time to grieve.

So how to wrap our heads around the number of deaths wrought by this pandemic? How to look at the 100,000 lives that by June 1st the United States is expected to have lost and absorb the enormity and rapidity of that loss? Because without acknowledging that loss, without letting it seep into our very souls, we will never be able to truly heal and eventually put behind us the daily trauma of watching that death toll mount.

The moment cries out to be marked by a National Day of Mourning and Remembrance, a time to acknowledge those who have been lost to us forever and to honor those whose commitment and sense of duty under trying circumstances has kept alive so many more.


This must be a day not for self-congratulatory speeches or even for debating the horrifying numbers, but a time for acknowledging that behind each of those numbers was a flesh-and-blood human being. Yes, some were famous with a gift for song or art, a talent that should have had years more to flourish. Too many were the health care professionals who put their own lives at risk in a battle still not even close to being won.

Many were the elderly and the frail often forced to die without the comfort of family at their bedside, the aged veterans who deserved far more from the supposedly grateful nation they served than they got in their final days.

Immigrant communities, minorities, and the poor were particularly hard hit too, but no demographic group was spared. Among the 100,000 are our neighbors and friends, too many of their death notices containing the words “memorial service to be held later.”

And so even the ritual of mourning is postponed until when . . . ?

When we can once again gather in groups?

When we don’t have to wear masks?

When we can hug again without fear?

And if that day is a year or two away? Or what if it never comes?

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is not to wait — not to wait to say the kind word, not to leave anything unsaid.


Our newly embraced virtual world has helped us celebrate the good times: graduations and high school proms that would otherwise be missed, weddings and birthdays beamed to loving relatives.

But we need a day to mark this moment, this sad, sad milestone of loss. We need a day to mourn and to remember those who have been lost. We need the moment of silence, the church bells, the candle lit — if only in our own homes — to help lead us out of this darkness.

Because only out of that ritual of mourning can come healing, and with it the strength to carry on — in memory of and in lasting tribute to those we’ve lost.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.