On Wednesday April 8th, my Father-in-Law Norman Platnick died. He had been in the hospital for 1.5 weeks following a nasty fall down the stairs and severe head trauma and stroke.
My husband Will and I were not allowed to visit him in the hospital here in Philadelphia due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were trying to move to him to a hospice home, so that we could at least see him in person before he died, but his COVID-19 test results were delayed and the hospital would not release him until they knew his results were negative. His test came back negative the day after he died.
So we said goodbye to him over Facetime, with the gracious nurse holding the phone to his face even though Norm most likely did not hear or understand our tearful goodbyes. He died a day later.
We are grieving the loss of Norm, obviously, but grief in this pandemic is more than the normal grief we feel because a loved one died. We grieve because we were unable to be with him while he lay in liminal space, when we weren’t sure if he would recover or not. We grieve because we had to say goodbye through a phone screen. We grieve because we can’t gather for a funeral right now for a celebration of life and the comfort that a church funeral would provide. We grieve because this pandemic robbed us of being present during his last days on earth.
So many others around the world are experiencing this same grief, both with loved ones who are dying/have died of COVID-19 and loved ones who are dying/have died of other causes. So many people are dying without their loved ones present and without formal rituals to say goodbye and celebrate their lives. We know that these measures are in place (and should be in place) to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But it doesn’t stop the fact that it makes the dying and grief process so much more painful and complicated.
As if the death and dying process wasn’t complicated enough during this pandemic, we are experiencing grief on a larger scale. Even if you haven’t been touched by death directly, you are undoubtedly experiencing collective grief.
We grieve the loss of our everyday lives, when we could move about freely and meet in-person with friends and loved ones.
We grieve the loss of life milestones and normality.
We grieve those who have died and in advance those who will die.
We grieve for those who are essential workers and are putting their lives at risk everyday to keep society afloat and alive.
We grieve the fact that our world is changing, and things will never be the same because of this pandemic.
We grieve the loss of our previous lives, our restricted current lives, and our changed future lives.
We are up to our necks in grief.
Jesus is the Same
Much of what we grieve is change, and the uncertainty of the future. We do not know what our lives will look like next week, let alone when the pandemic is over– whenever that may be.
It’s easy to lose ourselves in grief. Hope can seem very far away right now.
But in the midst of grieving for my father-in-law while also collectively grieving with the world, I have been clinging to this Bible verse:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.Hebrews 13:8
Even while we grieve and fear what is to come and how things will change, we can be assured that Jesus does not change. Jesus promises to always be with us, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20b)
In a grieving and constantly changing world, Jesus is our constant. Whenever grief begins to drown us, we can hold on to Jesus. He is with us, supporting us, and leading us through this difficult time. While everything else seems confusing, Jesus is unchanging.
Jesus is a rock in a weary land,/ a weary land, a weary land;/ My Jesus is a rock in a weary land,/ a shelter in a time of storm.African American Spiritual
What Matters Most
And because we can hold on to Jesus, our rock and shelter in a time of storm, we can– with Jesus’ help– focus on what matters most. In a more pared-down existence and with an uncertain future, we can listen to God’s voice and turn our lives to what’s most important.
Loving and serving God.
Loving and serving others.
Our baptismal calling to do these things.
We are called and invited and created to love and serve God and others. We are able to do this because God first loves and serves us (1 John 4:19). With God, we can continue on through grief and confusion. God gives us the focus we need to get through this. We are not alone.
May you, with the help of Jesus, focus on what matters most in this time of pandemic by loving and serving him and others.
May others show you God’s love and God’s constant presence when you need it as well.
And may you hold on to Jesus, our rock in a weary land, our shelter in a time of storm.