Recently, my family lost someone very dear to us. This is a peculiar and difficult time in which to lose a loved one.
We cannot grieve together in the same way, in person, supporting and loving one another through something so painful. We cannot gather as a large group to celebrate the life of someone we cherished, to feel a sense of “closure,” however small, in the beginning stages of bereavement.
When we lose a loved one in this time, there are many things we can't do, but there are also some things we can.
Losing Someone Dear
My beloved Uncle Ray went to be with the Lord at the end of December. He lived eighty-seven years of joys and sorrows. At the end of his long and beautiful life, Alzheimer’s Disease took much from him, but I will always remember Uncle Ray the way he was for most of my life: animated, vivacious, loving, fun, and incredibly joyful.
He had a larger-than-life personality, but he surprised others with his humility and gentleness. He was devoted to God and to his family. He loved to cook for people, whether at the Knights of Columbus Fish Fry or a big Saturday morning breakfast when you came to visit.
At Christmas he handed out giant Hershey bars with a big grin. A practical joker, he had a particular gift for drawing people out of themselves and giving them reason to laugh and rejoice. He was a strong and passionate man—but at the same time, loving and tender.
He had the most beautiful smile, and when he laughed, it was as if all the joy in his heart spilled over, flowing out onto everyone else in the room. He was a devoted son, husband, father, brother, uncle, grandfather, great grandfather, and so much more.
Uncle Ray was a fabulous dancer and my favorite dance partner. At family weddings and celebrations, he twirled us girls around the floor joyfully and masterfully. He was so graceful, strong, and light on his feet that he swept you off of yours. When you finished, you felt like Ginger Rogers, and you knew her exhilaration.
I’m not sure what part of my wedding was my favorite—my walk down the aisle with my father, my marriage vows to my husband, or my dance at the reception with my Uncle Ray! They are all beautiful memories I will cherish forever.
Uncle Ray was one in a million.
Dancing with Uncle Ray at my wedding reception in 1995
I am constantly reminded that this life is fleeting and mysterious. Our loved ones are precious gifts from God, accompanying us until they, or we, return to Him.
It is easy to take that accompaniment for granted, especially when you are young, everyone is happy and well, life is simple enough that you can visit frequently, or you are blessed to live in close proximity.
Things become so much more complicated by the passing of time.
Grief and the Pandemic
Sacrificing the normal rituals for grieving our losses leaves a great void. The mandates of the pandemic can strip away the reality of death, and also make it more traumatic. The protocols for COVID-19 have interrupted the normal way we process grief, making it that much harder. We feel less safe and secure in general at a time when we need greater security to bring peace and comfort.
Emotions cannot shelter in place. They are not locked down. But in today’s environment, those who grieve may feel incredibly isolated—especially if they could not be with their loved one at the time of death, were unable to say a proper goodbye, or did not experience that precious last moment in the presence of someone they cherished.
If all this sounds familiar to you, and you too have lost someone dear during the pandemic, I’m truly sorry for your loss. Thankfully, despite the things we cannot do in this time, there are some things we can do as we grieve.
Photo Credit: Guideposts.org
What Can We Do?
1. Be gentle with yourself in this painful time. Besides the pain of your loss, your life has also changed this year in other unexpected and traumatic ways. All of these things together bring about greater cause for anxiety and sadness. Recognizing it all is important. It takes time to heal and it is not a straight path.
2. Ask support from those who love you, and be honest and specific about your needs. If contact must be limited, reach out to them virtually, or ask them to help you find ways to maintain contact. Ask them to keep reaching out to you and accompanying you. It is a blessing to be needed. Don't deny them the blessing of accompanying you in this time.
3. Spend quiet time praying, reading the word of God, and doing things that bring you peace. Try to do things that will be restorative or occupy your mind in a way that is soothing to you. If you used to love puzzles, reading, art, or other hobbies but have not pursued them recently, ask loved ones to help you obtain what you need and try again when you feel ready.
4. Talk to your loved one in prayer, and ask our Lord and Our Lady to accompany you. The Lord knows our hearts better than even we do. He is present to you even when you do not feel Him there. Ask His help entrusting all of this to Him as He leads you to His peace. The Sorrowful Mother knows the pain of great loss. Ask her to comfort you in yours.
5. Take solace in the Mass, even if you can only watch it remotely. It unites this world with eternity, joining us to those who have gone before us in faith. Ask someone to help you have Masses said for your loved one.
6. Memorialize your loved one privately in some special way that draws on a particular memory or tradition. This might be something you do each day to remember them deliberately, spending quiet time in prayer for them and with them.
7. Plan a memorial for a future date when your family and friends can be together again. Others grieve your loss, even though you feel alone. Ask them to help you find ways to memorialize your loved one in this time. Perhaps you can plan a future celebration of the eternal life of your loved one.
8. Don’t lose hope. Hold fast to God's promises. Heaven is the hope of our souls. It gives meaning to everything we suffer here on earth. It changes and reframes everything for us as followers of Christ. Try to find comfort in that truth.
What We Know By Faith
We are human, and that makes us creatures of time. It rushes by before we know it, sweeping us along in a torrent as it passes. None of us can escape it. Yet, as we move through the ceaseless flow of time in this world, we can trust in this:
Because our God is so loving and good, and because He offers us a heavenly inheritance, there is a place in eternity where every precious moment, and every beautiful memory, is collected and held safe for us. One day, we will find them all again, in the company of those we have loved.
Imagine the joy that will be ours!
Until then, let's pray for the souls of our loved ones, and ask them to pray for us. They are never truly lost to us. Now they are everywhere that we are.
As for me, I am praying daily for my Uncle Ray, my Aunt Jo, my cousins, and their families. I ask him to intercede for all of us, including for the needs of my family. Now I can talk to him every day.
And I have to tell you how much I am looking forward to the time when I will once again share a dance with my favorite partner. I know it will be glorious—and I can't wait.
May his beautiful soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, though the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Prayer in a Time of Loss
Oh, Lord, who created and brought us into the world, and in whose arms we leave this world, embrace and console us in this time of grief. Give peace in the midst of tears, and hope in this time of confusion and sadness. Heal our woundedness, remind us of Your promises, and grant us joy in Your gift of everlasting life.
You are close to the brokenhearted; please be near to us now and comfort us. Hold us in our loneliness. Give us the grace to trust in Your will, both for our loved ones who have passed into eternity and for us. Give us rest and peace in You. Receive the souls of our loved ones into the abode of Your Merciful Heart. We ask this in the name of Christ, Our Lord.