Death in the time of the virus

We keep hearing and reading that these are challenging times, and decisions are being made that can affect life and death. That is all true.  But this week was challenging in a far more personal and direct way: death came to two people whom I loved, completely unrelated to the virus attacking our world.

One was a friend, a dear friend, a clergy member from a different faith community. Her daughter called me early in the week and told me her mom had died quite suddenly from a brain aneurysm. I had lunch with her two weeks ago, as she was about to start an interim pulpit position, just like so many rabbis I know. I will miss her terribly. I was somewhat familiar with the traditions of her faith, but given the restrictions on gatherings, there would only be a cremation and a memorial at some later date.  I thanked the daughter for calling me, hung up the phone, and wept.

The second was the father of my oldest friend; we had met when I was eleven. He had been ill and frail for a long time, so when my friend called to tell me he had finally died, none were surprised.  I told her I would be at the graveside ceremony. I hung up on that call and wept, too; I was to bury my “second Daddy” the next day, and it was hard to bear. My own father, such a different man and father, died over thirty years ago, but his funeral and shiva (mourning week) were fresh and painful to revisit. Truly, I knew how my friend felt.

The next day was cold. It was rainy. And it was awful. No hugs, no arms around each other or shoulders to lean on, the way I had been held at my dad’s funeral. The cantor chanted the old melodies, spoke warmly of the deceased for he had been a long-time member of the congregation. There were slight smiles, a couple of chuckles, and tears, just as there should be in remembering a long life. But there was also an awkward distance as we each stood under our umbrellas, as if their canopies would keep us the recommended distance apart.  No shiva, no trays to unwrap at the mourners’ home, no coffee to start up, no looking for the foil and serving plates.

For both families, there was no time to spend telling stories, Instead, I have called and texted all week to check in. The distraction of a house full of people, though exhausting, serves a purpose. The comfort of the ancient wisdom of condolence calls, the days of people streaming in, sitting, sharing, eating, praying, being with others….all were lost.

Others will die in the coming months, from the virus and other, more expected causes. Some will just be numbers on the TV screen and some will be close to our hearts. But no mourner will benefit from the consolation of family and friends. It’s as if we have to put our grief on hold until a more convenient time. We will all get through these times of isolation. There were celebrations that were supposed to happen, and they have been postponed. But we can’t postpone death, nor the mourning that comes with it. There’s a big hole where the community comfort should be. It’s hard to mourn. It’s harder still to do it alone.

May their memories be for a blessing, and may we gather soon to remember.

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4 Responses to Death in the time of the virus

  1. Susan says:

    Beautiful writing. Sending sincere condolences for the loss of your two loved ones.

  2. Ruth Warrens says:

    Sorry for your losses – may their memories be blessings x
    Yo mention no trays of food to be unwrapped – you and I are TG still able to go out and take food. I took a cake to a bereaved friend on Friday. Her mother died in Israel and not only was she not able to go to the funeral, she and her own family (husband and daughters) were sitting shiva in isolation because she has just completed chemo- and radiotherapy herself 😦
    Keep well, my friend xx

  3. Miriam says:

    Thank you, Anita. My father died a week and half ago, and we missed having people around us to share our grief. I’m grateful that my synagogue zoomed services this Shabbat so I could virtually be with my community when I said Kaddish. I didn’t realize how much I would miss my community until I couldn’t be with them.

    • anitasilvert says:

      I’m so sorry to hear, Miriam. May his memory be for a blessing. The community will be waiting for us on the other side of this, and in the mean time, we are redefining community, aren’t we?

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