• Sun. Sep 24th, 2023


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The Lost Americans

A widow in North Carolina whose husband died of Covid-19 feels crushed when she hears people talk casually about life in America returning to normal. I will never go back to normal, she thinks to herself. I still feel as though I am missing a limb.

A man in New York City who lost his wife to Covid ruminates on the days before she got sick two years ago. He worries that he brought the virus into their apartment, wonders if her death was his fault and asks the unanswerable: Why did he survive Covid, but she did not?

A woman in Minnesota whose mother died from the coronavirus is mired in what she calls “Covid grief.” It deepens when she sees the pandemic mentioned on Facebook, when someone says how happy they are to be reuniting with loved ones again, when she is forced to listen to chatter of masks or politics or vaccines.

“There’s a reminder of how she died, literally every single day, multiple times a day,” said Erin Reiner, whose mother, Gwen Wilson, was a champion bowler and quilter in Kansas until her death at the age of 72.

For more than two years, Americans have made their way through a pandemic that has upended plans, brought tumult and despair, and sickened millions.

But one group has been forced onto a separate path. These are the loved ones of the nearly one million people in the United States who have now died of Covid-19, a catastrophic toll that reflects a death rate higher than in almost any other wealthy country.

These families have walked a path in isolation, mourning and anger. They are carrying a grief that feels lonely, permanent and agonizingly removed from the country’s shared journey.

In dozens of interviews, people across America who have lost family members, spouses and friends to Covid described how they have experienced the pandemic, from the fearful unknowns of the early weeks to this moment, with a reopened nation moving forward, even as more than 300 people are dying every day.

They shared a dispiriting feeling: that the people they loved have been rendered invisible in a country eager to put the pandemic in the past. For now, there is no enduring national memorial to the people who have died, no communal place to gather and mourn. Many families are wondering whether the country views the deaths of their loved ones with real compassion — or indifference.

To these Americans, there are the people who lost someone to Covid, and the people who did not.

“They can’t walk in our shoes,” Ms. Reiner said. “For us, the pandemic isn’t just this blip in our history. People talk about it like it’s such an inconvenience — we don’t get to do this, we don’t get to have this celebration. I only wish that’s all it was for us, for me, for the countless other families.”