Excess grief

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Dear friends.

Some of you know that I see people who die, sometimes before, sometimes after. It’s what chaplains do at our place. In that process, I see diagnoses, I see cause of death. Sometimes it’s related to COVID-19. Sometimes it isn’t.

This isn’t about that debate.

I keep talking to friends who are sad. They wonder whether there is always this sadness, or if this year is different somehow. It is different somehow. In many ways.

This isn’t about all of those ways.

This is about excess death.

In the United States, from January 26 through October 3, 299,000 more people died than would have been expected to die based on the number of deaths during the previous five years. Said differently, people die all the time from all causes. This year, about 300,000 more people than usual have died. (CDC report).

Of course, when you read the report in order to debate with me, you’ll see that there are qualifiers about reporting lag (so the number is on the low side) and some averaging by week. I would love for you to read the report that carefully.

But regardless of the cause, these people died. Moms and grandpas. Aunts and nephews. Best friends and mentors. Babies we never had a chance to meet and 91-year-olds. Human beings who have no known next of kin. Regardless of cause, for eight months, about 1234 more per day died (on average) than the 7778 people (on average) than usually die.

No wonder so many of us are sad and angry and frustrated and numb. No wonder we are reacting more than responding, that we want to punch walls and people, that we are denying and rationalizing. No wonder we don’t know what to say to each other.

Because our culture isn’t great at talking about death. And we’ve got many more lost people to not talk about .

Tomorrow is All Saints’ Day, a day in the life of the church where we can remember those who are gone and their connection to God and to those who are here. Charlotte Donlon writes about how the words and texts of that day can provide support these days.

In a few hours, I’ll be leading a funeral for a family. There will be many other families facing those moments today, more than on average. And this weekend, and last week.

I have no political agenda in this, just a chaplain agenda.

The grief is piling up. This is hard.


Here’s where I got the Death statistics for 2018:

This leads to “A conversation about pain and grief” with a coworker and friend of mine.

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