21 experts on grief and death amid the COVID-19 crisis

A frontline health care professional working amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy. (Courtesy of Annalisa Silvestri via Creative Commons)

In the first year of the pandemic, the COVID-19 virus killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and claimed the lives of millions worldwide. It is a staggering number and one that continues to rise as the coronavirus outbreak carries on across the globe.

The dead are being mourned by an even bigger swath of the population — disproportionately so in some communities of color. An analysis published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calculated that each person who died was survived by approximately nine close relatives. Now many of the survivors are facing fresh grief in a world changed drastically by the coronavirus.

People are not just grieving the dead, but also the lives they once had. Even as vaccines roll out to certain swaths of the population, the COVID-19 virus and its new variants continue to spread, leaving many to wonder when life will return to some sense of normalcy. Most who become infected recover, but those known as the “long haulers” face a prolonged struggle with lingering symptoms.

Death and grief amid the pandemic affect the religious community. They are the dying and the grieving. They are also the helpers and the comforters who guide people through their final days and life after loss.

The latest edition of ReligionLink includes experts who may be able to help you cover the widespread tragedy caused by the pandemic. 

Background information

Related resources

Potential sources

  • Jamie Aten

    Jamie Aten is founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College. He is an expert on religious responses to public emergencies, including hurricanes and mass shootings. Aten is also a founding signer of the Prayers and Action petition, which calls on the evangelical Christian community to do more to address gun violence.

  • Brent Beavers

    Brent Beavers is the Buddhist chaplaincy program coordinator at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. He also served as a Buddhist hospital chaplain in the San Francisco Bay Area amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • George A. Bonanno

    George A. Bonanno is professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. He also is director of the college’s Loss, Trauma and Emotion Lab. Bonanno wrote The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss.

  • Pauline Boss

    Pauline Boss is a professor emeritus of family social science at the University of Minnesota. She is also an author and wrote Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief. Contact Julie Michener to set up interviews.

  • Megan Devine

    Megan Devine is a psychotherapist, grief advocate and the author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand. Submit media requests via Devine’s Refuge in Grief website.

  • Andi Egbert

    Andi Egbert is a senior research associate at APM Research Lab. Through its ongoing Color of Coronavirus project, the research lab is analyzing the inequalities among COVID-19 deaths. Send interview requests to Kelly Reller.

  • Kami Fletcher

    Kami Fletcher is an associate professor of American and African American history at Albright College and the president of the Collective for Radical Death Studies.

  • Laurie Garber-Amram

    Laurie Garber-Amram is a grief and mental health specialist at JCFS Chicago. She is also a Jewish mindfulness meditation instructor, who received her certification through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Contact Pam Austin for media inquiries.

  • Michael Hebb

    Michael Hebb is the founder of Death Over Dinner, an organization that encourages people to discuss death with family and friends. He also launched the End of Life Collective, an online resource that connects people to death and dying experts and providers.

  • Bryant Hightower

    Bryant Hightower is president of the National Funeral Directors Association’s board of directors and works for Martin & Hightower Funeral Home in Carrollton, Georgia. Contact Jessica Koth for media requests.

  • Saad Jalloh

    Imam Saad Jalloh is the spiritual leader of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York. Throughout the pandemic, he has offered support for those caring for the sick and dying at local hospitals.

  • Sally Karioth

    Sally Karioth is a faculty member of the Florida State University College of Nursing. She teaches one of the university’s most popular courses, called ”Death, the Individual and the Family.”

  • Debra Kaysen

    Debra Kaysen is a clinical psychologist and a professor with the department of psychiatry at Stanford University. Kaysen studies trauma-related disorders. Send interview requests to Lisa Kim.

  • David Kessler

    David Kessler is an expert on grief and loss. He is an author and wrote Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.

  • Gary Laderman

    Gary Laderman is associate professor of religion at Emory University in Atlanta and author of Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America.

  • Jon A. Overvold

    The Rev. Jon A. Overvold is president of the board of directors for the Association of Professional Chaplains. He is the manager of pastoral care and education at New York Presbyterian – Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. Overvold is also an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

  • James W. Pennebaker

    James W. Pennebaker is a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. He wrote Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions and Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering From Trauma and Emotional Upheaval.

  • David Schuck

    David Schuck is a rabbi at Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle, New York. He also is an adjunct lecturer in the Jewish Theological Seminary’s professional and pastoral skills department of the rabbinical school.

  • Kathy Shear

    Dr. Kathy Shear is the founder and director of the Center for Complicated Grief at the Columbia School of Social Work. She is an internist and a psychiatrist.

  • Emily Smith-Greenaway

    Emily Smith-Greenaway is an associate professor of sociology and spatial sciences at the University of Southern California. Smith-Greenaway authored a research article called “Tracking the reach of COVID-19 kin loss with a bereavement multiplier applied to the United States.”

  • Kevin B. Wright

    Kevin B. Wright is a George Mason University professor who studies health communications and is the co-author of several books, including Health Communication in the 21st Century and Computer-Mediated Communication in Personal Relationships.