I think of my friend of more than 40 years and my age who retired after serving so faithfully only to die months after his retirement. The loss was compounded by the fact that at his funeral, the people of the parish viewed the body from a sort of drive through visitation before only a couple of siblings, a niece, another pastor or two and a handful from the parish were there for the Requiem Divine Service. And then it was over.
I think of another pastor who preached his final sermon to an empty church as technology carried his words to his scattered flock -- only to have him die within six months and seventeen to sit in the funeral, remembering his life with thanksgiving, and turning to the Lord for the comfort of His Word. Again, technology sent the service out to those not present.
I think of the many in my parish who were isolated in assisted living centers and nursing homes while the doors were closed to family and clergy and how many of them fell into decline while living in the solitude of their rooms -- without stimulation, company, or the community of friends and family. Not to mention those who died alone in those rooms -- victims of COVID whether they had it or not -- and their families who could not say good bye or hold their hands. These losses were not only in the parish but across the nation in our families.
I think of the personal side of so many services so to accommodate the many in shortened liturgies with smaller attendance -- not to mention of my wife who practically wore out a pair of shoes rushing between chapel and main sanctuary as the services went on and on and on. And the Cantor who rushed between organs and locations so that we might sing a hymn. And the preacher who preached his sermon over and over and over again until he wished never to hear it again.
I think of my 90 year old mother who spent so many months without leaving her home and her fears less of getting the disease than loved ones getting it and not recovering. I think of the distance that had to accompany the joyful welcome of a new grandchild and of the hopeful moments spent in waiting to actually see him face to face. I think of the stress I brought home to my wife and of her patience as I ranted away my frustration at trying to be a pastor in such times like these. I think of our own family, our own health and of our own personal comorbidities (how I have come to hate that word) that could affect our ability to survive infection.
And then there are the other things. Vacations set aside, visits postponed, trips not taken, and simple excursions locally that turn into something big as you constantly weigh the cost of going out. Or the hugs you would have given to the family mourning a loss, or the people sharing good news, or the greetings given to people you have not seen for a while. The authorities have told us we had to give up these things and in the grand scheme of things they seem like little things. But are they?
In the strange world where being social means being distant, millions have longed for contact -- any sort of contact -- with another person. Waiting to give and receive a hug from children, grandchildren, and friends is not a small thing or incidental or non-essential -- it is what we were created to know and redeemed to do. Frankly, I am sick and tired of being told by a talking face on the screen that if we really loved our loved ones we would give up loving them to save them. For what kind of life?
I wonder how many people's lives were hastened to decline and death by the restrictions of COVID, how many people died of something other than COVID but who died alone because of the restrictions of COVID, and how many people whose mental health has been severely altered because of the restrictions of COVID. No, we cannot bring back those who died but the living will carry the weight of living with the restrictions every bit as much as they will carry the memory of those whose death ended up increasing the totals reported to us as breaking news for 9 months.