Grief and Bereavement Science
Between 2019 and 2021, our national life expectancy—an index of overall population health—dropped by more than three years for males and two years for females. Because of this, people throughout America are experiencing high levels of bereavement and its potential for pernicious consequences. The dramatic 6.6-year drop in life expectancy among Indigenous populations, by example, demonstrates the urgent need for our nation’s leadership to ensure parity of prosperity. As a nation, we have not experienced such a precipitous drop in life expectancy in all racial and ethnic groups since 1943, during World War II.
The implications of these statistics are sobering. They indicate not only that many middle-aged people of childbearing and child-rearing years are dying but also that many children and adolescents are losing their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and mentors. Because of the scale of loss, bereavement under tragic and often traumatic circumstances has now become a commonplace fact of life for many US residents. Further, COVID-19 and our nation’s other concurrent mortality epidemics have set back progress in closing the racial gap in quality of health by years and, in some cases, by decades.
The White House and members of Congress, regardless of political affiliation, should act immediately and in the best interest of all the nation’s bereaved and orphaned children. The unexpected death of a loved one poses a dual threat to our national well-being: it is both one of the most common major life stressors and the single worst lifetime experience, as reported by Americans in national surveys. Losing a loved one not only is a personal tragedy but also casts a long shadow that can extend for decades, placing surviving parents, children, siblings, and spouses at significant risk for impaired health, premature death, and underachievement for a lifetime.