My heart goes out to those who are losing people during this pandemic, enduring the absence of final goodbyes at hospitals and the rituals of friends at funerals.
We need mourning rituals. They help us feel love. They help us cope. They help us manage the array of emotions that rain down on us like a meteor shower.
And the coronavirus has been interrupting our normal practice of them. We cannot hold vigil at hospital beds, and we cannot gather in large numbers at funerals.
The family unit is critical at a time like this. It’s within the family unit and within the confines of our homes that ritual still is taking place.
Last week, I went to my first COVID-19 funeral, attended primarily by masked family members. My husband’s Uncle Johnny died at home after a long battle with a lung disease. He was 76.
As ugly as this sort of death can be (my mother also died of a lung disease), Uncle Johnny faced it with the love and determination he was known for in life.
He resolutely refused treatments that would send him to a hospital, away from his family. He wasn’t anxious to prolong his life, and yet he lived years longer than doctors expected.
And in death, he offered one last message about what’s important in life.
He loved three things: His God, his family and his country.
I want to focus here on his love of country. Partly because right now in America, we’re all torn up about what our country should be and what it has been historically. And partly because the military honors afforded Uncle Johnny, a veteran of the Navy, reminded me of my father’s.
The presentation of the American flag at the graveside is one of the most tear-jerking rituals I’ve ever witnessed.
We are a ritualistic people. Why? I’ve got to believe it is because rituals help us – even when they illicit tears.
Uncle Johnny requested full military honors at his funeral. That means taps was played, and the American flag draped over his coffin was folded with great care by two service members and then offered to his widow. The pair wore white uniforms so bright, they looked like angels.
To maintain social distancing guidelines, the lady service member dropped to a knee about six feet from Uncle Johnny’s wife. As her hands sandwiched the folded flag, the service member memorialized Uncle Johnny for service to his country. She then placed the triangle on top of the coffin for retrieval later.
Each time I see this military memorial, I’m in awe of the silence. In this noisy, distracted world, everyone stops for three minutes. The only sound was the wind in the trees.
We didn’t have the military come out for Dad’s funeral 14 years ago. Instead, a funeral director memorialized him for his service and presented my mother the flag.
“On behalf of the president of the United States …” the funeral director said.
Obviously, the president himself didn’t know my daddy was dead. Nonetheless, I cannot put into words how much this ritual meant to us. It was like an acknowledgment that my dad was important not to only my mother, brother and me, but to other people – to a whole country.
Grief is a destabilizing force. We need ritual in a world gone haywire.
We need one another no matter what virus is circulating and threatens to sicken us.
We may put on masks. We may keep several feet apart. We may stay home and not even share in the physical ritual, but we need ceremonies and practices to be soothe our souls.
Light a candle on a table at home. Post an obituary. Wear black for a period of time – or the deceased favorite color. Offer a spoken prayer. Send a card or food. Phone a bereaved friend. You’ll find these and other ways to cope with loss in an isolated state at Grief & COVID19: Six Ways To Get Comfort When You Cannot Get a Hug.
While we protect the mortal body, let’s not renounce the enrichment of the soul. The immortal soul.
Have you lost a loved one during the pandemic? What ritual has helped you? What do you want need from others at this time of loss?
Copyright © 2020 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved. www.tonilepeska.com