Analysis & Comment

Opinion | ‘The Unfathomable Toll of More Than 500,000 Souls Lost’

“The need for public acknowledgment and collective grieving is overwhelming,” a reader writes.

To the Editor:

Re “White House Holds Memorial as Nation Passes 500,000 Virus Deaths” (news article, Feb. 23):

I watched President Biden’s somber Covid memorial marking the unfathomable toll of more than 500,000 souls lost. As an American desperate for some semblance of leadership from and trust in our president, I watched as the granddaughter of a loving grandfather who was taken too soon by this virus.

The need for public acknowledgment and collective grieving is overwhelming. The absence of anything to mark the crushing, warlike loss from the last administration was glaring. More than just for posterity, our country craves some kinship with our president. We are contending with a crisis not solvable in the ways Americans typically cope with chaos and strain.

We as human beings have been robbed of natural and healing ways of grieving and achieving closure. We cannot say goodbye to our loved ones; we cannot hold funerals; we cannot even hold one another to share in this unimaginable grief.

President Biden, in his decency and his own experience with loss, understands this innate need and is providing a very distraught people with some empathy, comfort and simple humanity. He also understands the power of a quiet and understated ceremony.

The mere image of a black shroud gracing a doorway was heavy with meaning and recognition of such immense loss. It is not about him; it is not about optics, but rather an unassuming act of feeling and sensitivity.

As someone who is still deep in grief, and as one of millions who are struggling in many ways through this trying time, I appreciate Mr. Biden’s genuine efforts to reach out, to talk to me as a friend, and to carry us through this pandemic of historical proportions, one informed and compassionate step at a time.

Melissa Greenberg Cannon
Parker, Colo.

To the Editor:

The fact that half a million Americans have died in one year from Covid-19 is horrific. The gut-wrenching effect of such a loss of life is clearly illustrated in the superb graphic that accompanies your Feb. 21 front-page article.

Each tiny ink dot used to represent an individual person is readily discerned at the top of the chart: the beginning of the pandemic. As we glance down the page, an increasing density of dots depicts the trauma wreaked by the virus in the United States over the last year, culminating in almost complete inky darkness (and gloom) at the bottom of the chart.

Kudos to the graphic designers for the amazing visual, and to The New York Times for using half of its iconic front page to report this saddening and stunning news to Americans and the world. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Jerry Nathanson
Long Valley, N.J.

To the Editor:

Your thoughtful report on the toll of the coronavirus (front page, Feb. 21) is another valiant effort to show the personal intensity of these deaths for their loved ones, and the continuing difficulty, after a year, of making it real for the rest of the country.

For the families, it calls to mind Edna St. Vincent Millay’s words on the death of her mother: “The presence of her absence is everywhere.”

Terry Henderson
Raleigh, N.C.

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