Pandemic Grief

When the normal rhythm of life in community is interrupted by a catastrophic global event, the effect is that life all around us is radically upended by a deep sense of loss of control. The pause around the world is marked by a pendulum of emotions and events that swings in a wide arc between hope and despair every day.

Amid all the good and hopeful news about vaccines, boosters, advanced therapies and a possible end to the pandemic, there are millions of people around the world who are grieving the death of one they know and love. An unpredictable pathogen has robbed their families and society at large of the presence and as yet unrealized potential and contribution of a sacred life. For those who have not been directly affected by the death of a friend or loved one, the number of daily or cumulative deaths regularly reported by health authorities is, for most, a sobering thought largely incomprehensible statistic. For those who grieve, the number is tragic, real, and entirely personal.

The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that grief is the most equal opportunity experience in all of life. Grief is indifferent to our race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation; it is the great leveler of emotions, place, and time. We are not insulated from grief because of where we live, how educated we are, or how much money we have or do not have. Rather, when one we love dies, the experience of every survivor is grief, the most fundamental expression of individual loss and personal love.

When the outcome of pandemic disease is death, grief overwhelms our hearts and leaves us reeling. In an instant of finality, we are forever changed by the death of one we love. We want to make sense of what has happened, yet there are no real answers. We struggle in vain with the “Why?”

The effect of grief is never passive. We may feel disillusioned, fearful, and hate-filled because of the death of one we love. Or grief may leave us more convinced than ever of the goodness of life. Either we actively grow from our grief and through our grief, or we shrink into grief, conforming our shell to the unalterable circumstance of death. Though it is not always so, without fully understanding the “Why?”, often we find within our grief the best response to life’s worst tragedies.

Perhaps the most compelling need for all those who grieve is authentic comfort. When death strips us of our worldly self-sufficiency, our spirit is vulnerable to every suggestion of where we might find true comfort. Some seek comfort in the distractions of the world rather than in the spiritual substance of life.

Many who grieve turn to those they love for comfort. When we entrust the pain of our grief to others, our emotions are fragile. Because our expectations are high, we are easily disappointed when we sense that someone who loves us does not understand our loss. Over time we learn that no one can comfort us perfectly because human comfort—even the most loving, sensitive, caring comfort—is largely of the moment. We hear the words, we sense the intent, yet deep, profound comfort does not always seep into our soul.

How, then, do we access the soul-satisfying comfort that quiets our soul and strengthens our heartbroken spirit? We believe that God is at work in our lives to transform our sorrow into the life-sustaining comfort that holds us close and restores us to life beyond our grief. We believe in faith that God loves us, that God cares about us, that God walks alongside us, especially in our grief.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
Psalm 23:4 ESV


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