Over 502,000 people have now lost their lives to Covid-19 since the first case was reported in the United States. The numbers of those sickened and who have died are staggering. It’s easy to become numb to the reality they conceal.
But each person who has died was someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, friend. They were doctors, nurses, teachers, bus drivers. All had lives and dreams, and they each leave behind grieving loved ones. Reflecting on this at the recent candlelight ceremony to commemorate the dead at the White House, President Biden said in his remarks, “We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or on the news. And we must do so to honor the dead, but equally important, care for the living and those left behind.”
There’s so much grief and pain for those left behind that it is overwhelming. I can see this in a friend of mine, who is in deep grief after losing his mom to Covid. She was previously healthy, but died after a month-long battle with the virus. He has no siblings with whom he can share his grief. His experience reminds me that grief is like a hurricane—the storm comes in bands that hit relentlessly over and over again with no end in sight. At least, that’s how it feels at first.
Although I haven’t personally lost anyone to this virus, I know what grief is. On January 31, 2018, I lost my dear daddy to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He fought cancer for nearly two years but in the end, it got him anyway. Watching my daddy waste away and die in front of us was the worst experience of my life. It’s so painful that to this day, I’m still grieving. This powerful grief helps me to empathize with many others who are grieving their family members right now. It reminds me of how important it is to cry with those who cry. Showing love and empathy in this time means to personalize the pain. Pope Francis states that, “Grief…is a bitter path but it can serve to open our eyes to life and the sacred and irreplaceable value of each person, and at that moment, one realizes how short time is.” I have found this to be true.
Grief can feel like drowning, as the dread of a long experience of pain makes us feel numb. How do we make sense of it? This question has surely been pondered as long as humans have walked the earth. The Lord tells us in Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” At first glance, this Beatitude makes no sense. How can the mourning person be blessed? Grief is so painful. How can the grieving person be blessed?
When Our Lord says they who mourn shall be comforted, he isn’t only making a promise on God’s behalf, but revealing that they should be comforted by us. We should comfort those who mourn, and can do so with compassion. Pope Francis describes this in his General Audience on February 12, 2020, “It is therefore a case of loving the other in such a way as to be bonded to him/her to the point of sharing their suffering. There are many people who remain distant, one step behind. It is important instead that others enter our heart.” We must bear each other’s burdens at all times, even and especially in grief. It’s only through love and sharing the grief that those who mourn will be comforted.
But what concrete steps can we take to enter others’ hearts and to help those who mourn, especially since most of our interactions right now must be virtual? First, we should pray for them. Second, if you know someone who is grieving, check up on them with phone calls or text messages. Everyone is different and for some, it’s difficult to talk about their loved one or to laugh again. For others, that’s what they crave. I know in my own grief, my mom and I laughed though tears at funny memes and videos even the day after my daddy died. Third, offer them help. This might be difficult due to social distancing, but if you’re able to assist with housework or childcare, do what you can.
Those are just a few ways one can help comfort the grieving. Let us pray in this plague time and in this Lenten season that the Lord will open our hearts and our eyes to the grieving. Let us comfort them because every life is precious. Our world is a colder, sadder place with so many lives lost, but with love and empathy and the help of God’s grace, we can heal, one day at a time.
I’ll close with an excerpt from the recent prayer by Cardinal Wilton Gregory televised on CNN:
We humbly ask the Creator of all to grant eternal peace to our sisters and brothers lost to this disease. Strengthen those families and friends who remain behind, to comfort one another and to wipe the tears from our eyes. May each one find peace and let the memory of our loved ones itself be a blessing…Assist us in replenishing our compassion under the guidance of the One who is the ultimate source of our peace and our unity.