Mourners still need community, even during a pandemic

In 2004, my cousin Eldonna and I travelled to India. During part of our time in that country, we stayed with an Indian family I’d only known through correspondence. While there, we received news that Eldonna’s mother in Saskatchewan had died unexpectedly. With no cell phones, we hadn’t been in regular contact with home. By the time we heard, Margaret’s funeral was long over.

We would not leave India for several more weeks. Devastated, my cousin, a woman of perpetual motion and boundless energy, sat motionless. Praying for strength and courage to carry on.

Perhaps this happened minutes after we heard the news; maybe hours. I can’t recall. But suddenly total strangers surrounded us. God sent earth angels, I think. Friends of the people who had welcomed us into their humble cement home. They filled all available seating. Some sat on the floor. They didn’t speak much, just waited, absorbing her sorrow. Listening as she talked about her mother. Weeping as she wept, laughing as she laughed. Praying as she prayed. Her memories, and the love that caught them, filled the room like incense and comforted us both. I’d adored Margaret too; a tiny woman with an enormous heart, shaped by the Saviour she loved.

When my own mother died in 2014, our family held a funeral. Friends and relatives came; people who loved Mom, and others who came simply to support us. Like that day in India, we shared memories and sang songs and reminded each other that Mom was in God’s care. That our faith and hers promises a reunion in God’s time. We left that chapel of mourning assured that God had sent comforters to walk alongside us a few steps into the shadowed valley.

COVID-19 has stripped us of much, including, for most, the opportunity to mourn in community. My father, who died during the pandemic, had a beautifully simple graveside service, with only local family in attendance, according to pandemic protocol. Two provinces over, I mourned alone. Later, the Preacher and I watched the service together. Two months after that, our son and daughter and son-in-law gathered in our living room to view it again. As healing as that was, I missed keenly the lost opportunity to say farewell amongst a larger community of caring friends and extended family. People who loved Dad and cared about those left behind.

Mourning a lost loved one is both necessary and cleansing. But grief is a long debt and it must be paid. Supporting those who sorrow helps them make those payments, and becomes a gift not quickly, if ever, forgotten. Not only, though, is it a gift to our friends. Sharing another’s grief becomes a gift we give ourselves, for as we consider our own mortality it reminds us to make our moments count.

“Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus said, “for they shall be comforted.” A prayer, a kind word, a gift, a call—if someone you know grieves, take a step or two with them into their valley. It’s what earth angels do.

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