MADISON, Wis.— It has been almost one year since coronavirus first made its way to Wisconsin. The United States is closing in on 500,000 deaths, while the world has seen roughly two million.
It has become normal to wear a mask and social distance. It is easy to forget life was not always this way.
Omar Poler wants people to recognize that and to remember the people who lost their battle with COVID-19.
“A friend said to me, 'We never take the time to stop and reflect on the loss we’re all experiencing,'” Poler said. “At the same time, a newspaper article came out that said no collective mourning had emerged within the United States.”
Poler is UW-Madison’s Indigenous education coordinator. He wanted to change the way America looks at coronavirus-related deaths. He wanted people to spend a moment grieving.
“What we do is I spend some time before Thursday trying to learn about specific people,” Poler said. “I look through obituaries and try to come up with a way to remember them.”
He calls it Thursday Mournings. Every Thursday morning at 10 a.m. for 10 minutes, he reflects on the lives lost and recalls what he is thankful for.
Poler’s colleague, Julia Yates, felt inspired immediately when hearing about Poler’s pledge.
“My first reaction was that this is powerful, Yates said. “Secondly, that this is just incredibly needed right now.”
Yates uses journaling as her outlet and now as a way to grieve as her way of recognizing Thursday Mournings.
“We want to do so in a way that fits us because there is no one size fits all for grieving,” she said.
Poler joins his wife and two children outside for Thursday Mournings and hopes his children will someday understand why this ritual is important.
"Ten minutes is enough time to be intentional so that you have to think about what you’re going to do for those 10 minutes,” he said. “It’s also a time of day that’s disruptive, so we have to stop what we’re doing to do this.”
He hopes it will slowly spread to more people.
“Imagine if one day, you looked out your window and saw all your neighbors coming out to mourn in their own way,” he said.