Have you ever fallen down a “rabbit hole”? You know what I mean…an internet search “rabbit hole.” You look for information on one thing and hours later, you are still at the computer, learning about things you never even knew you wanted to know about. This happens to me, more often than I really care to admit…and it happened on this past Sunday. It started simply enough, I was reading a brief list of anticipated movies in 2021 and one was called The Vigil. The description indicated it had to do with a shomer.
And off I went—what’s a shomer? Well, in the Jewish religion it’s someone who sits with the body after death. Why do they do this? Well, that led to a page all about Jewish funeral and burial customs (very interesting) which then led to a page about Muslim burial customs and just as Alice did in Lewis Carroll’s classic work, I went further and further down the rabbit hole. I’m glad I did, because it brought me to a reflective state that’s been on my mind all week long. In short, I began to wonder, what effect has COVID-19 had on funeral, burial and mourning customs in the past year? And, what would the long term effects be on society in general; the inability to gather to mourn, the inability to say farewell to someone in their religious traditions, the inability to have hospice care or palliative care in one’s home. Sobering thoughts for Valentine’s Day weekend, and yet in reality it is love that connects us to all of these final traditions—the love we have for our family and friends that causes us to grieve, to mourn, and to send our departed to God in a certain manner. COVID-19 has destroyed many things since last February and the ability to grieve as we wish is one of those things.
Still, the question begs, why am I writing about this instead of Valentine’s Day or Lincoln and Washington or the approaching Lenten season or even Mardi Gras? It’s a big few days spanning 2-14 and 2-17 this year. I think it’s because I could not get out of my mind that phrase each of us hear when people are talking about dying… “In the midst of life, we are in death.” How true that statement is, this year especially as we watched for daily counts of losses due to COVID-19. Even the youngest among our households could not be completely shielded from the fact that death was literally all around us; it had us on lockdown for most of the year. But what we didn’t hear much about, at least I didn’t, was how once death came, those who were left behind were able to cope with the loss and how, for many families across the country and the world, that the grieving process, so essential to us in life, was incomplete at best.
If you turn on your TV or scroll social media these days, you hear about the vaccine, the rollout, who gets it first in which state et al. You see people with their stickers announcing their vaccination status, you can watch videos of health care workers administering the doses, you see indoor dining opening up, entertainment venues opening up, and we won’t even get into the heated debate about schools…I’ll just say my feeling is that all those in education are doing the best they can. You can once again buy tickets to a major league baseball game, it looks hopeful for Broadway to be open by the fall, vacations ( with masks) are once again being planned…and there’s a sense of re-emerging from the pandemic and coming out on the other side. Hope springs eternal and perhaps this spring season, more than ever in anyone’s memory, people will have a renewed sense of hope. However, for some it will be a hope tainted with sadness; because for every person lost to COVID-19, there’s been an imbalance in the grieving process for their loved ones. The tales I read during my time in the “rabbit hole” were heartbreaking and I will not heavy your hearts with them in detail. Suffice to say, the words I read and the images I saw are things I will carry with me, always.
So, while God would want us to be hopeful, to see the rainbow shining through the darkness of the past year, to rejoice in the goodness of medical breakthroughs and the slow reemergence of gathering as we did once before, with hugs and laughter among friends, He would also remind us to never once forget those who are not with us, nor the families who lost so much. Those who lost a loved one lost that person in their lives; but they also lost the ability to say goodbye just as they would have wanted, the ability to have others help them grieve, and the ability to come to terms with loss surrounded by the warm embrace of family. We cannot ever lose the memory of all that loss and we should work to expand our sense of compassion and understanding as we move forward. Now and in the future, compassion is what everyone will need most.
Rose Fitgerald Kennedy once said “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
How fitting those words are in light of what we’ve all lived through from last March until now. And how important they are, when it comes to us understanding and empathizing with the sadness of others, even as we celebrate our own joys in the coming months.
Happy Valentine’s Day and my prayers to all in the Saint Dominic Academy community who are grieving a loss. You have my sympathy and my empathy always.