Death and Loss During a Pandemic

Craig in Alaska

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


In March my spiritual director fell in his home and suffered a serious head injury. This led to a brain bleed, stroke, and paralysis. After days in a coma, Chuck was revived with serious physical and mental impairments. One week ago today he passed away while in hospice care. Chuck’s death is a loss of over a decade of spiritual direction, friendship, and love. The suddenness of his loss is an unplanned and sharp pain in my heart. I also hurt for his wife Jean, daughter Rebecca, and grandson Gus. Losing someone during a pandemic is extra difficult when physical touch is not possible, and family bedside gathering is not permitted.

Perhaps we underestimate the amount of grief being experienced by our society and our churches during this pandemic. I see the irrational anger of people who feel their rights are being violated because they are asked to wear a mask in public. There is heightened anger in the voices of protesters. I perceive this anger as grief. There has been exponential loss since the first orders of shelter in place back in March. Beyond the social loss of physical connection, people are sick and dying–alone. The deaths of George Floyd and others have left in their wake spouses, children, and communities painfully grieving life that has been suddenly taken. Dr. David Williams, Professor of Public Health at Harvard, has shown how trauma caused from the death of an unarmed black man can affect a community for 3 months. See his article here.

As religious leaders and as the Church of Jesus Christ, we are called to be God’s gentle and caring hands for the world. We, too, are hurting, angry, sad, and lonely. We, too, want to come back together and resume our old rhythms and rituals. But it is important that we respond in ways that will not exacerbate the problem and create further pain and loss. We must fervently pray, and we must diligently practice social distancing. We must reach out to our neighbors and let them know God cares while wearing a mask. We will come together in worship–perhaps outside–but we will refrain from singing or hugging out of care for others.

I miss Chuck greatly. Our conversations were always fruitful and full of life. I miss the fellowship of the saints too. I miss the sounds and actions of worship. Both are longings of loss. In the book, My Soul Feels Lean: Poems of Loss and Restoration, Joyce Rupp writes,

“Now is the time to yield, to enter
the next turning, accept the stark contrast
of barrenness in place of fullness.”

There is another side of grief. A fresh restoration returns when we exit the season of sadness and barrenness left by those we love. As people of the resurrection, we will get to the other side. In the meantime may we be prayerful, compassionate, and gracious to all those we encounter.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

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