In times of crisis, when the usual rituals suddenly can no longer be performed, new practices take shape. In the absence of a body they can say goodbye to, people search for other ways to memorialize the dead. During the Civil War, formal photographic portraits took on new importance, clung to by families as mortal reminders. World War I led to a rise in séances and spiritualism, and a proliferation of monuments covered in the names of soldiers who never made it back, whose bodies disappeared somewhere across the sea. Today, we sit shiva by Zoom. For some, virtual mourning may bring new kinds of relief. As Lynn Harris, a writer and start-up founder who lost her mother to COVID-19, recently told me by email, she was glad not to have to figure out what to do with stragglers or extra food when the shiva ended…

What we do know, or ought to know: Mourning together is at least as important—more important?—to our survival as the divisive arguments about whether restoring the economy or protecting vulnerable people matters more. In this election year, every aspect of the pandemic and the nation’s response to it has been politicized, and there is no collective, top-down mourning process—an absence that is exposing the unseemly seams of our barely stitched-together society. Right now, our mourning feels individual, not collective, with fights breaking out about masks, freedom, “fake news,” and the like.