Grief is part of life.
That is particularly true in times of loss, especially the loss of a loved one.
Death has been an increased topic of discussion in the news in recent weeks, as the number of people whose lives have been taken by coronavirus goes up every day.
So, how does one grieve in a time when people are being ordered to stay at home and are encouraged to distance themselves from others?
How are changes in how people are allowed to express their grief impacting them?
Some local faith leaders and funeral directors addressed the idea of grief and how they in their capacities are helping people along the journey.
According to Bryant Kaden, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church pastor, the reality is that grief takes time.
“It is not something you leave behind and ‘move on’ from,” Kaden explained. “I think the best encouragement is to honor your feelings as you experience them and to learn how to deal with them in healthy ways.”
Kaden added there is no wrong way to feel, but there are healthy and unhealthy ways that people can deal with their feelings, and he tells people the best thing to do is start with acknowledgement of the feelings one is having and then express emotions in ways that do no further harm.
Interaction with families has changed for pastors and local funeral directors, as they are often not meeting with people face to face but through contact via phone and online communication services.
Tony Hesse, who serves a number of Catholic churches in the Redwood area, including St. Catherine’s, indicated he is still communicating with his flock in some of the same ways, as he writes in weekly newsletters and addresses issues like grief regularly from the pulpit during Mass.
Yet, added Hesse, the regular visitation of parishioners, whether at their homes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities or hospitals, has definitely been altered.
“That has been hard,” he explained, adding now he is spending more time on the phone communicating with them in that way.
According to Nathan Stephens of the Stephens Funeral Service, one of the major changes he is experiencing is in those communications with families who are dealing with loss of their loved one.
“Oftentimes when we go to a hospital or nursing home our first contact with the families is in person,” Stephens explained. “Now we are often in communication with them over the phone.”
The loss of that interaction with those who are trying to help people cope with their grief can exacerbate what people are feeling.
According to Al Hillestad of Nelson-Hillestad Funeral and Cremation Services, the option of meeting with families still exists, so long as social distancing is practiced and health concerns are also being addressed.
Stephens in some cases in-person meetings can take place under the same circumstances.
According to Hesse, the Bible has a lot to say about grief.
“I believe Jesus says it best in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Mt 11:28). Jesus does not want us to feel alone or alienated in our grief. He wants us to come to him with it, or with anything that we are burdened,” explained Hesse. “However, in the next sentence he invites us to ‘Take our yokes upon us and learn from him, for he is meek and humble of heart’ (Mt. 11:29). In other words, Jesus wants us to come to him with our burdens, but that does not mean that he will take them from us. Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, who went to his father to ask for him to take the cup of suffering from him, but eventually he also was willing to accept it (see Mt 26:39, Mk 14:36, Lk 22:42). Likewise, the father wants to be there for us like he was for his son. However, like his son, we may still have to suffer, but remember, we are not alone. God is with us.”
According to Kaden, for the Christian there is hope in the midst of grief.
“There is, of course, the hope of heaven. Death and grief do not have the final word or claim on our lives,” explained Kaden. “Our weeping will be replaced with joy in being united with God and our loved ones in the hereafter. Until that time, however, it should also be said that, through the experience of becoming truly human in Jesus Christ, God understands your suffering and is present with you in your grief. Jesus weeps alongside you. Even apart from the hope of eternal life, there is comfort in that, I think. Ultimately, whether we are in deep grief, or simply trying to get through life the best we can, we need to know that we are not alone.”
How we reassure people of that connection right now has changed because of COVID-19, added Kaden, but that is the heart of what he would want people to know.
“You are not alone. You are loved,” explained Kaden.
For youth, grief is just as much of a reality, and, at times, it may be easy to forget about them.
Chris Schmitz, Redwood Falls Youth for Christ director, tries to help youth as much as he is able. That has been much more of a challenge recently.
“It is difficult to work remotely. As Minnesotans, we are already prone to bottling up our emotions (at least those on the far ends of the emotional spectrum, like grief) and that has only gotten worse with the isolation of pandemic protocols,” explained Schmitz. “I am not a cautious person by nature (those who know me are shaking their heads in agreement) and my inclination is meet with kids anyway, but in small groups that obey the mandate. However, we have national office that determines our chapters’ best practices and they have determined our protocols with a ‘no face-to-face’ interaction model. All of our clubs and get-togethers have transitioned to online models.”