This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of FOCUS.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:18
One of the greatest impacts of the pandemic and its accompanying restrictions has been how it impacts the dying and then grieving process. One of the hallmarks of a good death for many would be the presence of family and loved ones throughout the dying process, particular in the final days. This impacts our own death but also how those who care for us process grief.
I recall in the days leading to my mother’s passing, the family gathered. We gathered at home and then in the palliative care unit. We sang for her. We spoke to her. We gave her gentle care — the perfect expression of love and gratitude for the decades of love she had poured over each of us. We were there in the moment of her passing, as she exhaled her final breath and passed into glory. Our grief was centered around that shared moment of sadness for us and perfect joy for her.
Contrast that with the reality of death during the pandemic. In hospitals around the world, healthcare professionals and chaplains try to create spaces for the dying and their families to connect. The efforts by healthcare professionals and chaplains have been heroic. They are particularly aware that how people die makes a great to their loved ones experience of how they will grieve.
On the day I began writing this piece, one of my dearest friends passed into glory. In the months leading up to his passing, he was in Italy. He had wished to come home to Canada, but the circumstances of his illness and the pandemic made that impossible. Some loved ones were able to make the flight to say their goodbyes, but others among us weren’t able to do that for a myriad of reasons. By missing this essential part of the dying process, our grief has been in many ways interrupted. We have spent much of the last six months on the phone with our friend, trying to say everything that needed to be said and hearing everything we needed to hear. We treated every call like it could be the last, until it was finally true. Our final call was last week. He slipped into sleep and could no longer speak. Normally we would have run to his side, held his hand, sung for him, and cared for his bodily needs as he moved closer and closer to the Lord. But separated by an ocean, we gave the only gift we could — we prayed. Through that prayer we are with him and he is with us.
As people of faith, we have solace even in these sad days. The seed that we carry out for sowing in our grieving is the seed of joy we plant alongside our loved ones laid to rest. We ease our hearts with truth of God’s promise. God has promised to bring to new life those who He loves. That promise is like a stream in the desert. A promise of happier times. A reunion in the Kingdom. Love that doesn’t end when an earthly life ends, but rather deepens and expands within the heart of God. Love that will receive us when we too complete our earthly journey.
That doesn’t mean we are not, as Christians, allowed to grieve. Let’s not forget that, even knowing that Lazarus’ resurrection would come shortly, Jesus wept. He gives us permission to believe and trust in the resurrection, while still accepting the grief that is part of our human nature. As Christians, how we approach the death, even the death of our patients and the grief of their loved ones, is a powerful witness. He invites us to help others make space for grief in the expectation of resurrection. If death is part of the human condition, then so too is grief. If resurrection is part of God’s promise, then with our grief comes the comfort of hope.