I guess you can say that over the years, I have probably attended or participated in hundreds of services — from funerals to memorial services to gravesides to Celebration of Life gatherings — but nothing prepared me for what I witnessed this last week.
As we all know, COVID-19 has created chaos in our living world, but what many have not experienced yet is the aftermath. Well, I had a front and center experience that has left me feeling heartbroken and angry — both normal grief reactions — but even as a grief counselor, I struggle to wrap my mind around what is happening.
As I have said often, there is no perfect time to die; however, I would argue that this pandemic is creating emotional chaos that goes beyond our ability to grab a hamburger at a nearby restaurant or get our hair cut. It has literally robbed us of many healing rituals that take place when death occurs, and it is affecting grief responses. Some are showing up now, while others are certain to rear their ugly heads later.
I attended a visitation for a friend and colleague who had been a huge presence in our community. It seemed as if everyone knew her, loved her and had such wonderful and positive stories to share about her life, and yet, as I pulled up at the funeral home, I was shocked over the lack of vehicles.
Going inside was even more baffling. It was eerily quiet and I was able to go directly into the parlor and lay eyes on my friend, whisper words of gratitude for the lessons she had taught me and approach the family, the line nonexistent.
A dear friend encircled me with her arms and my first response was to fall into them, but instead stated, “You’re not social distancing.” In that moment, COVID-19 was the furthest thing from our minds and we held on tighter — a much-needed act of comfort that couldn’t be stolen from us.
It was awkward to walk up to her family with masks on and not be able to hug, shake hands or provide that physical comfort; it was just too much, to be honest. Gathering in a corner of the room, a few of us lamented on the lack of people showing up to support the family. The former colleagues, friends and people whose lives she had personally touched over the years were absent. We knew that fear of the virus was the culprit and didn’t blame anyone for not attending, but it still weighed heavy on our hearts that this had become the new normal.
Watching those people in line who did show up — all wearing an assortment of different color masks that did not match their formal wear — added an element of change that felt uncomfortable.
In normal times, the funeral home would have been absolutely packed with lines wrapped around the building to support the family and to honor the life of someone many loved and held dear.
But alas, these are not normal times. We are left to lament upon our own feelings of anger, sadness and frustration.
To COVID-19, I say, “She deserved more.” I wrestle with the timing of her death, but like many others and families around the world, we can only hold onto our love and look forward to a future celebration where we can share stories and laughter and heal together.
COVID-19 is not invited.