On Monday, March 16, my grandmother fell in her care center, and her health declined quickly that day. Due to covid-19, her care center was on lockdown and would not allow outside visitors to ensure that residents do not catch the virus. While I completely understand this lockdown was necessary for the sake of all the care center’s residents, staff, and families, I felt heartbroken that my family and I could not be with Grandma Mary during those final days of her life.
That Friday morning, Grandma Mary passed away. This was the first day Illinois began its shelter in place order, and since my family lives in several different states, we were not able to drive or fly to southern Illinois for her burial the following week. We only received a few photos of her in her casket and a video of the minister reading scripture as he stood by himself beside her burial site. (I still do not feel emotionally ready to watch it.)
All I want to do is be in the same room with my family as we look through photo albums, share memories, cry together, and hug each other tightly. Yet, it will be a long time before we will be able to gather together in the flesh to grieve and to celebrate Grandma Mary’s life.
I feel very sad. This is really really hard.
And so many of us have incredibly painful stories of how Covid-19 is affecting us and our neighbors.
Seniors are unable to receive visits by loved ones in their homes or care centers, even in their end of life care. People who struggle with depression, anxiety, and/or OCD are feeling extra isolated and anxious. Important events, such as graduations, weddings, and funerals are being cancelled or postponed. Working parents are trying to balance their work from home while also homeschooling their children. And this is especially a challenge for single parents.
Xenophobia, racism, and hateful acts toward Asian and Asian American communities are spiking. People are losing their jobs and businesses, and many cannot pay their bills or buy medicine or groceries. Loved ones and neighbors are getting sick with Covid-19 and the number of deaths continue to increase.
In the midst of all these tragedies and losses, many of us are also grieving the loss of community in a time when we need community the most.
It is in these times when we need to hear and proclaim a message of hope.
This past week as I was reflecting on Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading, I could relate to Mary. She was so overcome with grief over the loss of her beloved brother, Lazarus, that the only thing she could do was run to Jesus, fall to her knees, weep at his feet and cry out to him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
In this incredibly painful, scary, and uncertain time, many of us feel hopeless and helpless. Like Mary, all we feel we can do is fall at Jesus’ feet and weep. All we feel we can pray is: “If only you had been here!” All we feel we can ask is: “Why?”
What strikes me is how Jesus does not condemn Mary for her questioning of and accusations toward him. He does not try to “fix” things for her nor does he offer her a cliché Christian saying like “Everything happens for a reason” or “Just trust God.” He does not downplay her feelings, make her feel guilty for having and expressing them, or tell her to look on the bright side. Jesus does not even offer her an answer to her question “why”.
What Jesus does do is show up.
He shows up to and for her, he sits with her as she grieves, and he quietly listens to her. Deeply disturbed by her pain and sadness, Jesus has compassion for her. And he weeps with her.
In doing so, he is saying to her:
Your feelings are valid.
You are loved.
You are beloved.
I see you, and I hear you.
I hold your grief in my heart.
You are not alone.
This is good news. This is the message of hope that Mary needed in her time of grief. And this is the message of hope that many of us need as we experience grief during this pandemic.
In the midst of the wilderness, God shows up.
God shows up to us. God shows up for us. And God shows up through us.
So may we not only receive this message of God’s love and hope, but may we offer it to our neighbors – especially those most vulnerable and need the extra care right now.
We need each other more than ever in these times.
In a time when we must physically distance ourselves as much as possible for the sake of ourselves and our neighbors, showing up for our neighbors will likely look different than in other times. I’ve offered a few ideas for how we might practically show up below. Please share other practical ways of showing up for our neighbors during this time.
- Call or facetime a few people a day (think about people who are particularly vulnerable or lonely right now) and check in with them. You might ask: How is your soul today? What is weighing on you right now? Have you been able to do anything that is good for your soul during this time? How can I pray for you and support you right now?
- Organize and/or participate in a social distancing window singalong. (Sing out your windows or on your front porches with others in your community). Make sure you are all keeping your physical distance.
- Put up positive messages, lights, and/or images (hearts, bears, etc.) in your windows for neighbors to see when they are taking walks.
- (If able) Pick up groceries or other needed items for a senior or someone who immunocompromised.
- (If able) Purchase groceries or needed items for someone who needs extra assistance.
- (If able) Donate to an organization that provides funds, food, and/or services for those who are being financially affected by the Pandemic.
- (If able) Support local businesses that are struggling during this time by ordering take out or purchasing gift cards to use at a later time.
- Make cards or pictures for seniors in the closest nursing home or retirement center. (If the the center cannot receive outside mail, take a photo of it and text or email the picture to the senior or their caregiver.)
- Use social media to reach out to, connect, and support others and to speak out against racism and injustice.
Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran. Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.
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