Incredible Grief, Abundant Hope
Photo by Charlaine Martin, 2016. “Caldera hike, cranberry bush on the floor of Kilauea, Big Island, Hawaii” All rights reserved.
I’ve been thinking about grief lately as the number of deaths from Coronavirus soars each day. I’ve read stories about people whose loved ones died alone from COVID-19. It broke their hearts. It broke mine to read them. One woman in Detroit lost her husband and her son in one week (Detroit Free Press). This woman’s faith held her together in her unimaginable grief. I saw a photo, in the news, of a priest from a small town in Italy blessing a long row of caskets of people who died from this novel virus (Reuters). The morgues in New York City are overwhelmed with the people who passed away, sent by the hospital staff who struggled to care for them (New York Post). We aren’t just a nation who will mourn, but a world that will mourn together. Lives taken by a deadly virus literally suffocated to death. I shudder to ponder it all. Grief from this crisis will be enormous for years to come.
There will be a lot of “holes” in life these individuals filled. They were parents, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, and coworkers. Their absence will be felt by many for years to come. These people are irreplaceable. Each one with unique talents, gifts, personalities, likes, and dislikes whom God created. So we often ask Him, “Why?” We may never know.
As I pondered grief, I also noticed mourning from different perspectives—grief over the loss of normalcy. We are a ferocious, independently-minded group as Americans. We like to do what we want, go where we want, eat what we want, and do all of these pretty much whenever we want. When Stay-at-Home orders came out state by state, our responses were pretty much one big groan, as if we were children sent to our rooms. We weren’t being grounded but protected from something ominous headed our way.
In the meantime, many were in a state of denial, brushing it off as if it were just another strain of flu. Others only wanted to think happy thoughts by pressing anyone posting “negativity” to stop and smell the roses, “like” the cute kitten, or play a game with them. I listened to some wise people who simply said to prepare. I bought some supplies but didn’t go crazy about it. While people pretended all was well, I purchased a reasonable quantity of water, toilet paper, alcohol, Clorox wipes, and food. Just enough to hold us out for a month, if necessary. People scoffed at us as we shopped with our masks, ones we already owned from construction on our home. “Boy, some people are going crazy about this whole thing,” one man stated to his wife in my husband’s hearing. Yet another chimed nearby, “Just two weeks’ worth. Just two weeks’ worth,” while I put fourteen cups of one brand of yogurt in the cart for my hubby, and fourteen of another for me. Two week’s worth. I was ahead of this nut, who was absolutely unaware that we eat yogurt for breakfast every morning. While their grief wallowed in denial, we moved to active preparation for what lay ahead. Denial robs us of what we need to prepare for an imminent crisis.
But denial quickly turned to panic as the cases of COVID-19 spread while the death toll surged. Suddenly people hogged basics, fighting as if against some enemy, over toilet paper, of all things. One man on social media said he walked away from the baby formula aisle in tears because there was none for his infant girl. Stores had to limit stock so everyone could get what they needed, even though they really could not. Grief mixed with fear turned into an ugly, greedy monster who cared nothing about anyone else.
I even felt a bit of grief myself, an antsy edginess, although we had what we needed. One beautiful spring day, I wanted to stroll along the walking path by our local schools with my hubby. Unfortunately, we could not due to the Stay-at-Home orders. I found myself grumpy with my Boaz for eating the last bit of nuts I had reserved for myself. My Boaz informed me, “The governor just stated on the news briefing that Michiganders should avoid buying groceries for the next two weeks.” UGH! Yes, we have what we need, but our fresh produce will be gone. What I like to have will be gone before then. I guess we will be eating canned chicken, canned green beans, and apple sauce for a couple of weeks. Meh. Then I got a call from my eighty-nine-year-old mom who has been in lockdown for two weeks longer than the Stay-at-Home orders. I felt terrible for her in her loneliness. I guess grief is an equal opportunity thief.
Grief has shown up in other ways, too, in the ugly garb of anger and blame. Churches began online services due to the government-mandated quarantine. All public gatherings and non-essential businesses shut down to wait for this virus to run its course. Yet many believers have cried, “Foul!” accusing government agencies of persecuting the church by forcing them to close. Police arrested a pastor in Florida for holding church services anyway. Social distancing is nearly impossible in megachurches like his. He was the one pointing the finger of blame at the government for “forcing” churches to close down (USA Today). I got into a discussion with someone who posted that the government was “forcing churches” to close down as if practicing our religious faith were outlawed. When I replied that was not the case, but we could still have services online and remain safe, she became indignant. So, I “snoozed” this person for thirty days until the pandemic blows over. Maybe we can be reasonable Facebook friends again. Anger and blame is so divisive.
Anger shows up with people out of work, not knowing what to do. Essential workers show outrage by having to work, exposing them heavily to potential illness day in, and day out. Long taxing hours with no protection. Lack of appropriate pay. Lack of ability to stay home. Lack of enough sleep and sanity in the craziness. Anger is a ravenous beast.
Yet others blame themselves for not being able to do enough, feeling like a failure as a human being. Decisions had to be made that were never on the radar for their medical careers. They worked feverishly with people who died anyway. Too much stress, not enough sleep. Too many people, not enough masks and gowns. Who gets the ventilator and who does not? This person is someone’s grandpa or grandma, mom or dad, aunt or uncle. Knowing they would die alone with family waiting to hear news on the outside of the hospital walls. Not being able to keep up the tallies. No end in sight. No wonder they blame themselves but aren’t to blame at all. They gave their all. No one is really to blame, but we do it all the same.
Finding Answers from God’s Word
Read: Isaiah 61:1-3
In our passage, we see the recognizable segment Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah in His hometown synagogue that He fulfilled this passage (Luke 4:16-20). He referred to the release of captives and forgiveness of debt in the Year of Jubilee, which the Jews knew from the Levitical laws (Leviticus 25:8-18). They also trusted the Prophet Isaiah’s words as coming from God. The rest of the passage Jesus doesn’t mention is that God will restore what is broken and damaged into something beautiful, referring to God’s lavish blessing upon His people. The ApostlePaul said, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV). Those of us who know Jesus, called to His higher purposes, have been set free, and our brokenness will be used for a beautiful purpose. This pandemic has pulled us to consider the basics of our Christian faith. Even though many are suffering, He will bring beauty from the ashes the Coronavirus caused. We are strengthened—forged, if you will—more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Amidst the pain, denial, and anger is beauty amid the ashes left by this viral illness. I remember walking on the caldera of the volcano, Kilauea, in 2016. It was black and barren across the hard-crusted surface. Small cracks amid the blackness and thin, glass fiber strands released little puffs of steam from the smoldering lava deep below. Interestingly, an occasional cranberry bush sprung up with a handful of berries. The tour guide allowed each one of us to sample one berry. It was incredibly sweet. I never tasted a raw cranberry so delectable. I wished I could sample more, but if I did,– if we all did– there would be none left for anyone else. Hope is meant to be shared with others.
I see situations like ours, much like that volcano. Although another situation is brewing somewhere under the surface, God is still working in our present crisis. He prompts people to pray for someone sick and works a miracle—a life who testifies to His greatness. He works through His children who give Him glory, even when this novel virus claims the precious lives of family members. His churches respond in faithful love to help those without funds, food, supplies, and hope. He sends encouragement to those who are under overwhelming strain. He scatters the church across the internet to share His love and hope to those asking, “Why?” We have a God who cares.
Beautiful things have come from our painful situations during COVID-19. These are some of the ways I’ve noticed God bring beauty from the ashes:
- Companies and individuals have donated protective gear for medical staff. An outpouring of compassion sweeps across America. Those who sacrifice their own health and safety for the good of those who fall victim to COVID-19 have tremendous support from those who recognize their selfless efforts.
- Grocery stores and restaurants have accommodated customers with online ordering and pick-up. This excellent benefit of technology protects both workers and customers from becoming ill. He also provides an income for these essential workers that they may provide for their families. It will probably become a more conventional way of shopping and eating in the days to come.
- Couples and families have grown closer. Problems and issues must work themselves out because no one can walk away from them. Couples are bonding in heart and soul, in ways that were stunted by hectic schedules and geographical distance. Parents are learning to practice healthy discipline with their children to help them understand the value of respectfully obeying authority figures. The God-ordained institution of the family can mend any strained bonds.
- Resourceful people resurrected older self-reliant skills. People have posted their bread-making endeavors on social media. Many found recipes to cook for meals at home and made their own hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes from helpful instructions. There are many other excellent forgotten skills re-discovered we should be doing anyway. We are in a time when Boomers and Millennials can learn skills from each other.
- Churches who usually stay tightly woven within their groups have either closed their doors entirely or became a wonderful outreach on the internet. Members and regular attendees “share” these online services with friends, family, and online connections. We’ve been stripped of our traditions, our cliques, and our control due to Stay-at-Home orders. God has also drawn us back to the heart of worship, prayer, and Bible study that should be the heart of our churches in the first place.
- We’ve been pointed toward considering the prophecies of the Bible yet to be fulfilled, the value of repentance and revival, and understanding how to recognize God’s work through current events. We must consider how God is setting the stage for End Times events yet to come, which has been brought to the forefront of our minds. “This is a dress rehearsal for what is yet to come,” posted a friend’s husband on Facebook. My hubby and I agree.
Through our grief we have abundant hope because of Jesus Christ in this season of trials. We can look forward to what He is doing in the chaos for our benefit. We can trust He will take care of us. From the ashes of our sorrow, hope springs forth like a delectable berry just waiting for us to take hold of it.
In response to the Pandemic Pandemonium, I invite you to join me in the study, “Living the Disciplined Life,” on Facebook, utilizing the spiritual disciplines to connect and abide with God at a deeper level. Watch for announcements through social media.
May you be richly blessed from your incredible grief with abundant hope.
The Holy Bible, New International Version. NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.
“‘Unimaginable’ pain: Coronavirus robs Michigan woman of whole family” by Francis X. Donnelly, The Detroit News. Detroit Free Press, April 10, 2020. https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2020/04/11/covid-19-costs-grand-blanc-michigan-woman-entire-family/5132907002/
“Italy small town priest deals with death on industrial scale” by Flavio Lo Scalzo. Reuters, March 28, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-italy-coffins/italy-small-town-priest-deals-with-death-on-industrial-scale-idUSKBN21F0M6
“NYC morgues, cemeteries overwhelmed as coronavirus death toll rises” by Julia Marsh. New York Post, March 31, 2020. https://nypost.com/2020/03/31/nyc-morgues-cemeteries-overwhelmed-amid-coronavirus-official/
“Florida megachurch pastor arrested for holding services, defying social distancing orders” by Tamara Lush and Chris O’MearaAssociated Press. USA Today, March 31, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/03/31/coronavirus-florida-megachurch-pastor-arrested-church-amid-orders/5093160002/