The COVID-19 pandemic has deprived us of some traditions of grieving, such as deliveries of homemade casseroles to bereaved families. (Creative commons photo via Pxhere.com)
We always can use more humor. Even during a pandemic.
At least that was my justification for a “thought” I shared with the world on social media last week.
A Michigan woman posted on Twitter that she was writing a condolence card when her 5-year-old son interrupted and wanted to know what she was doing.
“I’m writing a note to say how sorry I am that my friend’s mom died,” the woman replied.
The boy paused to digest the explanation. Then he asked, “That was just to be kind, right? You’re not the one who did it?”
A former boy from Bloomfield, who chose a career in newspapers over stand-up comedy, drew on his journalism training and then responded on Twitter to the woman: It never hurts to check.
Like the woman from Michigan, many of us have taken pen to paper during the past two months while confined to our homes to one degree or another. Our notes and cards have checked in on people we cannot visit and have conveyed our thoughts to others when they have lost someone close.
The coronavirus contagion has created a phenomenon called the “drive-by visitation.” We see mourners sitting safely in their cars, lining the road leading to a cemetery, as a show of respect for the deceased whose funeral or burial the public cannot attend.
The disease has kept us from sharing hugs with our friends who have lost loved ones. It has kept many people from dropping off a casserole, leaving a three-bean salad, or delivering a plate of brownies to nourish the grieving family, body and soul.
The mother-in-law of one friend died of coronavirus at a care center in the Des Moines area two weeks ago. He said the absolute worst part for the family was not being able to be there to hold Dolores’ hand, to stroke her cheek or kiss her on the forehead as her life faded after 93 years.
The statewide restrictions on funerals add to families’ heartache, because without the in-person comfort and support from friends and neighbors, saying good-bye seems more empty. Being unable to share a meal in the church hall after the funeral deprives people of the opportunity to tell those stories that bring smiles to mourners’ faces and help dry their tears.
Dolores’ son-in-law said he is going to need a special calendar to keep track of all of the memorial services that will be scheduled at some still-to-be-determined time for his friends and their relatives who have died during the pandemic.
While we wait for these postponed gatherings, we should savor the memories that flood back when we learn of the death of another person we knew. For me, it has been people like Lucille Herndon and James Jenkins, Dan McCool and Barbara Dinnen.
Lucille’s daughter was a colleague of mine at the Des Moines Register. Lucille was 91 when she died last month, and in many ways she reminded me of my own mother. Lucille always had a big smile when she saw someone she knew. She was the Dr. Mom to seven children who tended to everyone’s tears and skinned knees, the one who made sure everyone was fed well.
James, 88, was a lawyer in Albia and later a district judge. Those were his official titles. Unofficially, he was my law professor. He patiently took time to explain the intricacies of the law and legal concepts, establishing in an eager young newspaper editor a lifelong interest and appreciation for the importance of lawyers, judges and our courts.
Later, after he retired and shed his impartiality, there would be lively discussions when he challenged my Register staff’s editorials with his own well-reasoned letters to the editor.
Dan, 60, was a charming character who appeared to be about the size of a Buick. His bushy mustache and whiskers gave him the aura of larger-than-life Yosemite Sam, this one wearing a dingy ball cap.
Dan was the Register’s longtime wrestling reporter, and he was beloved by wrestlers and coaches for his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport — and for the stamina he displayed to get to most of the high school gymnasiums in Iowa to watch matches and tournaments.
About his size, Dan once explained that he felt sorry for his mother, because he tipped the scales at birth at about 14 pounds.
Barbara Dinnen, 67, was someone you would have wanted to know. When the time finally comes for her delayed memorial service, it will be inspiring, I’m sure.
I knew Barbara through her husband, a Register reporter. She was something of a professional volunteer while their three children were young. Later in life, she became a United Methodist minister.
She devoted much of her ministry to serving a bilingual church in Des Moines and being an advocate on immigrant issues. Her legacy exists in the lives she touched, both here and abroad.
Her husband wrote in her obituary, “She was known as a hands-on person. She joined together the hands of newlyweds and dabbed droplets of holy water onto baptized babies. She used her hands to make pupusas and tamales with Latina women gathered in the kitchen of her church. She taught immigrant women to sew.”
It is difficult to cope with death even under the best of circumstances. But the coronavirus is a dreadful scourge, in part because it forces us to postpone our face-to-face grieving when people like Barbara, and Jim and Dan, Dolores and Lucille are taken from us.
We need the angels to hold all of us up during these trying times.
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