The sunny wheat field was full of multiple combines, dozens of workers, and several trucks.
But it shouldn’t have been.
It was one of the worst weeks in the small community’s history.
Days earlier, my husband’s seven-year-old brother had suffocated in a truckload of wheat on their family farm.
Time froze and the ripe grain in the field bent uncut, as though weeping in shock with everyone else. After the funeral, nearby farmers left their own crop to finish the harvest of the grief-stricken family. It is my husband’s most vivid memory of that foggy time. Without even asking, his family was surrounded by help in the field, in the house, with the other children. Work-weary farm families came together, all at great inconvenience, cost, and risk to their own weather-dependent livelihoods.
Pulling up to the house to console my high school boyfriend on the day of the accident, I suppose I had expected a solemn scene. I was relieved to see it abuzz with activity. But my comfort was nowhere near what that hurting family felt as a parade of pickup trucks and station wagons made their way down the dusty driveway.
Together is How We Do Life
Similar scenes have played out throughout this country and around the world for centuries. We have learned to do this difficult, transient life together. There really is no other way.
And it is one of the hallmarks of God’s community, the Church.
In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”
It is how humanity handles any of life’s big moments, from anniversary parties to major surgery. In groups we learn, live, and recover from addictions. But we are facing a dilemma. This pandemic, rather than benefitting from our togetherness, requires our separateness. Coronavirus has taken the “we” away. Hugs, handshakes, and high-fives have vanished, and it feels unnatural. This isn’t us.
We are all feeling loss of community right now.
Coronavirus has taken the “we” away. Hugs, handshakes, and high-fives have vanished, and it feels unnatural. This isn’t us. We are all feeling loss of community right now. Click To Tweet
And the loss is a major one, because physical presence matters. This Easter season we are reminded how much God Himself values it. The Word was wrapped in flesh and lived next door. Right alongside us sinners. Not judging and dictating from afar, but holding our hands, wiping our tears, and healing our hurts. For a season, God was sitting at our tables and preaching to our assemblies, together with us.
Grief is What We’re Feeling
But that innocent Son was also sent here to die. Loss is part of the Resurrection story. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s part of our life story, too.
Grief is acknowledging and feeling that loss. At this moment, it feels overwhelming.
We are accustomed to doing all of life’s transitions together, but now, because of this virus, our babies are being born without family arms to hold them, our children are graduating without pomp and circumstance, our parents are being buried without proper goodbyes. We are all feeling loss on some level: loss of routine, loss of expectations, loss of security. And every loss cuts deeper due to loss of community.
Our joy rings in hollow halls and empty auditoriums now, yearning for our community. And pain, rather than being divided among others, is multiplied by their absence.
Everything seems more difficult because we feel disconnected.
Brene Brown says,
“(As a society) we are grieving the loss of normal while trying to find our footing in a new, isolated normal. It is a big ask.”
From my journal:
My husband and I arrived at the Cleveland Clinic to get my device installed. Nearly 1,000 miles from home, it’s so much more difficult than any of my local hospital stays. We are separated from our support system. Everyone is texting and calling and have sent gifts for us to unpack, but we so miss people praying with family in the waiting rooms, and holding our hands at the hospital bed. No homecooked meals will greet us at our temporary recovery residence. My husband will sit through my surgery without any human presence of support. This journey is so much harder alone. Even though the “alone” is only physical, and only temporary.
A Hopeful Stage to Grief
At some point as we process loss, it is healthy to recognize, This is where we are.
Acceptance has traditionally been considered the fifth and final stage of grief: This is actually happening. People in our circles are getting sick from COVID-19, and some are dying. And now we have the knowing that all this could happen again. We are mortal and finite and breakable.
But finishing grief at that stage has always felt incomplete (and hopeless) to me. Christian grief can’t end in acceptance. Just like we can’t finish the Story with the grim reality of Jesus in the grave.
Recently, grief expert David Kessler added a sixth stage to the grief process: Meaning.
The world will be different post-pandemic. Each of us will be changed. Just as we were after 9/11. More security-minded, more aware of what could happen. More appreciative of freedom, heroes, and hometowns. More sensitive to how delicate and brief life is.
In our grief process, we can move past acceptance. We can leverage our loss into meaning. We can emerge not as our normal community, but as something even better.
In our grief process, we can move past acceptance. We can leverage our loss into meaning. We can emerge not as our normal community, but as something even better. Click To Tweet
Better Than Normal
Most disasters happen locally or regionally. This one touches everyone, everywhere. For the first time in my memory, maybe the first time since the Flood, the entire world has been given an opportunity to reset. (Even my parents in rural Kansas who were reluctant to get on board, eventually did, too.) We all have been given a gift: to rethink our lives, to reset our cadence, to render meaning from our losses. What will we look like on the far side of COVID-19?
His Church won’t be meeting together for sunrise service this year to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. And like that first Easter weekend, our waiting will likely last longer than we’d want. But just as Jesus emerged from the tomb, we can emerge from this dark historical time as a different, better collection of people.
I want to come out of this an improved version of the person who skipped into quarantine, feeling like it was a snow day or an extra holiday. (I know I’ll have cleaner hands and a more impressive stockpile of toilet paper.) When this is all a memory, a story we bore our grandchildren with, each of us will look more like what we are focusing on right now. If we consume ourselves in worry, we will emerge tattered and tired. If we immerse ourselves in His promises, we will look more like Jesus when this pandemic is in the rearview mirror.
And we will have an experience that will inform our souls. We can have genuine empathy for those forgotten and alone, in nursing homes, prison yards, children’s shelters, rehab facilities, and hospital beds. And maybe most valuable of all, we can now relate to those living isolated in their own lonely homes.
Sounds like a good pandemic plan: love God and love others. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. It’s the only way we wil leverage our loss into meaning, and transform our community into a better one.
A good pandemic plan: love God and love others. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. It’s the only way we wil leverage our loss into meaning, and transform our community into a better one. Click To Tweet
Like the early days of my illness, this is a dark time. Our threadbare faith often seems little protection. But someone once said if you can’t see any light in the tunnel, you must be halfway through. This will end. There will be a post-crisis period.
Two months after the accident, the rallying rural community sent my husband to college and we got married in a small church there several years later. Those people, though many moved away, came together countless times in the years that followed that tragic harvest: for funerals and farm auctions, graduations and Christmas pageants. Decades later, the home that overflowed with community that solemn summer day was leveled by a tornado. His community, stronger than ever, was there again to pick up the scattered pieces. Not long after that, the far-flung group prayed me through the shock of my heart failure diagnosis.
This will not be the last loss we face as a nation or as a group of believers.
But our dispersed community has a Source of uncommon strength.
And I sense us all finding meaning, even as we grieve.
Leveraging Your Loss into Meaning
Are you grieving loss right now, especially loss of community? If you’d like some practical, gentle ways to turn your loss into a better version of “us” on the other side of this historical pandemic, I have a new resource for you. Just enter your information below to receive my guide, 13 Ideas to Leverage Your Loss into Meaning by Loving God and His People. (I’ve also included a printable door hanger to make it a bit easier to reach out to neighbors.)