Family, Virus, Fears and Death.
Very often at the beginning of Mass the priest will say, “This Mass is being offered for the repose of the soul of XYZ.” Do we understand what that actually means? During the Eucharistic Prayer the name of the person is mentioned and they are prayed for and somehow in the back of one’s mind is the thought that it is about reducing their time in purgatory and helping them to get to heaven. Indulgences fall into that same category. All that is our theological thinking.
But how does the spouse, parent, sibling or a close friend deal with the reality of the death of a loved one? There is preparing for, the grieving and mourning stages immediately after the death that do continue over time. The topic is relevant for me now for 2 reasons. Firstly, I am once again commemorating the death of Chris, my late husband who died on 22 June 2000, a very long time ago I must admit, but he is still someone meaningful in my life. I published a booklet with some memories about the process of grieving, BECOMING WIDOWED and I have also been holding short sessions for the widowed and bereaved. At such times we reflect and pray STATIONS OF THE CROSS FOR THE BEREAVED as a few moments to remember them and reflect on our own journey. This is still an act of love.
Chris was taken ill and died within a few days, days during which we prayed fervently for his recovery or for acceptance. I am still not reconciled to the idea of death as God’s will or a natural event that God incorporates into one’s life’s journey.
My second reason for this reflections is that right now the whole world is in a very unusual situation. Every person and every family is living with a deadly pandemic. We’re all dealing with the possibility of death, but in what way? Are we too casual as we mentally add up the numbers that are reported daily? The WHO director Dr Tedros reminds us that it is not about numbers but about people, a husband, wife, father, mother, grandfather, son or daughter. They are the people we love who may be with us no longer after just a short illness. Hundreds of thousands of people across the world have succumbed, and many or most of them with other health matters or older than the average person. Many or most people who have been infected and became ill have recovered. And we, having prayed fervently and give thanks to God.
But these weeks and months have been a frightening time, maybe with an almost irrational, but very pervasive anxiety. There are young people and older people, parents and children who may be having panic attacks. There is help for coping with anxiety. Medication or meditation, counselling and communicating within our families on how we feel can relieve some anxiety. Others, maybe those living alone, old or younger, become depressed.
Organisations like SADAG the South African Depression and Anxiety group tel 0800 21 22 23, www.sadag.org. offers 24/7 online counselling and many resources.
For any kind of illness there can be a fear of death, and that is certainly true of Covid-19 especially as we do not know everything about it yet Older people or those with other physical conditions are more vulnerable and should be more careful and protect themselves as we hear constantly and need to take seriously.
In South Africa the death rate is actually very low, only around 2% of those infected and very few children. Many children are even asymptomatic and hardly get ill. But the 2% could still add up to a pretty large number if some of the predictions and estimates are correct. The present aim is that the severely ill will hopefully have access to the necessary medical care in hospital. Death in hospital is traumatic for the patient and their families, as they are normally able to spend those final moments together which is not possible with Covid-19. The few hours that I spent at Chris’ bedside during his final hours were precious for me and I was blessed, although he had been sedated and in a coma for 4 days and we had not had an opportunity to say our goodbyes. God only knows what the next few months will hold for any of our families.
This sounds very challenging but it would be a spiritually and psychologically meaningful experience for families to spend time praying and sharing on the possibility of death. It would be an emotional time, sure, but also even helpful for children. Some of us may remember that during the days when HIV deaths were common children were encouraged to make a memory box with mementoes of their loved one. Maybe something similar could be done too.
Pope Francis wrote in Amoris Laetitia 258. “ If we accept death, we can prepare ourselves for it. The way is to grow in our love for those who walk at our side, until that day when, “death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” We will thus prepare ourselves to meet once more our loved ones who have died. Just as Jesus gave back to his widowed mother her son who had died (Luke 7:15) so it will be with us. Let us not waste energy by dwelling on the distant past. The better we live on this earth, the greater the happiness we will be able to share with our loved ones in heaven. The more we are able to mature and develop in this world, the more gifts will we be able to bring to the heavenly banquet.“ FAMILY WEEKLY 24 JUNE 2020 TR
Have you heard about the commemorative DAISY CHAIN? “We hear daily updates on the number of people who have lost their lives from Covid 19 and are devastated at this loss and its effect on those left behind. We would like to honour these people by commemorating them with a small handcrafted paper daisy, connected to The Daisy Chain. Visit www.cuttinpaper.com to find out more.