Until we do, we can't hope to elect capable and compassionate leaders

When tragedy strikes, we come together to mourn. It’s not just a human impulse; it’s an impulse that keeps us human.

Honoring our lost has long been understood as one of the duties of the office of president. Ronald Reagan eulogized the victims of the Challenger explosion. George W. Bush cried for the lives lost on September 11th. Barack Obama sang “Amazing Grace” to honor the victims shot and killed by white supremacist Dylan Roof. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump has left us to mourn alone.

More than 214,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus so far. More than 5,000 of those lost were Ohioans. For those grieving, the numbers don’t matter. Each loss is total. Every death is devastating.

The number of Americans killed by the coronavirus is rapidly approaching the number of combat deaths in the Civil War. Standing at Gettysburg, President Lincoln called the soldiers buried there “those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.” Today, it is essential workers — grocery clerks, janitors, nurses, teachers, bus drivers and more — who are dying so that others might survive.

How easy it would have been for Trump to remember our departed by quoting Lincoln. Instead he told us, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” But what of the loved ones of victims of COVID-19, whose lives will never be the same?

Left without leadership, we are turning to each other for comfort.

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Last week as a part of the National Week of Mourning for the Victims of COVID-19, each day people around the country gathered virtually and at socially distanced events to mourn the lives we have lost.

The National COVID-19 Remembrance placed 20,000 empty chairs, only 10 percent of the total number of lives lost, on the Ellipse in Washington D.C. One might expect such an event to be televised and hosted by a politician, but the memorial took place on Zoom and was hosted by legendary singer and actress Dionne Warwick.

On Twitter, people across the country used the hashtag #wegrievetogether to share remembrances and resources for grieving families. They also reminded us that COVID-19 has disproportionately ravaged the most vulnerable in our society: the elderly, minimum wage workers, people of color, immigrants and prisoners.

Before we vote this November, we must come together to mourn our dead. Until we do, we can’t hope to elect a leader up to the task of managing this pandemic.

Grief can keep us honest. It can reset our priorities. It can nurture compassion — a quality in short supply these days and one the next president will need.

Grief raises questions: Did 214,000 people have to die? What can be done to protect the next 214,000? The answers to those questions should guide our voting.

Grief is our best hope for finding a way out of this mess, but only if we grieve together.

To all who have lost loved ones, my heart breaks for you. Let’s come together to support each other and build a better future.