Death and Grief
Death and grief have never been easy or wanted, to say the least. Our society doesn’t like to talk about either. I have often dreamed of what it would be like if we could midwife people into death the way we welcome them into life, with care, love, presence of mind, body and soul. I have found death and grief in this time of COVID to be one of the most difficult aspect of social distancing. As I have said to any number of people this past week, “If I hear one more person complain about their dang hair I am going to lose it! Who cares about long, even mangy hair? That is livable. What is not livable? Not being able to hug, or hold the hand, or even be in the presence of those who are at the bedside of a loved one dying, or in the new grief of a recent death.” Distance caring is not for the faint of heart.
As a Christian community we KNOW what to do at the time of death. We have prayers to say. We gather for a service. We share the Eucharistic meal. We congregate for a reception. We tell stories. We laugh, and cry, and name our pain at the loss. We rejoice that Jesus has won for us everlasting life and that our loved one is in a place where there is no more pain or sorrow but life everlasting. More often than not, we do this in person. We give one another a literal shoulder to cry on. We hold the hands of those we care about. And now we cannot do what is familiar to us. We cannot gather for the rites that carry us through our time of grief.
Many of you have asked about services for those who have died during this time. We are obligated to follow the guidelines of both the county and the diocese, which restricts our options. By the county we cannot have more than ten people and they all must be from the same domicile. By the diocese we cannot have more than four, including the clergy, in the church building. Of course masks and social distancing are requisite. This makes burial in our columbarium a challenge for almost any family. Most families are waiting for a full service when we can gather again.
So what CAN we do in this time of COVID? How can we mend our broken hearts when we cannot gather together as God’s community to both celebrate life and mourn the one who has died? First, we can pray. Pray now, pray later, pray early, pray often. We cannot pray enough at this time. Prayer does work. Not always in the way that we hope, but prayer does bring comfort to those who are grieved, and prayer is good for us too as a sound way to safely care for those around us. The second goes back to my old-fashioned roots of letter writing. Send a card, send an email. We can still tell the stories that we would at a reception, but now we go back to the old ways of writing it down. The stories and memories are important to you and to those whose loved one has died. I know you want to hug and care for those who are in deep grief. Put it into words. You don’t have to know what to say. Just say what is on your heart. Say that you love them. Say that you care about their sadness. Say that you are praying for them (then be sure you are).
When we are able to gather and mourn as a community our grief will be different, as it will not be so fresh. We do not know what the service will look like given that singing is likely not allowed for some time and we don’t know when Eucharist will return. What will matter most is that we can mourn and celebrate life together, as a community. We will be able to say familiar words together. We will be able to celebrate life together. We will be able to grieve together. We will be able to pray together. Together is how we will get through this pandemic time. Together in faith. Together in prayer. Together through the love of Christ.