Image from the New Creed illustrated booklet -- artist Gary Crawford
This is no idle or abstract threat. More than a hundred people in Newfoundland have tested positive-- roughly three quarters of known cases in the province -- after attending two overlapping visitations at a funeral home in the St. John's area. Think about services you have attended with the intimacy of expressions of condolence, along with the proximity in places of worship and chapels, and you come up with a petri dish for transmission.
Just the same, I am saddened for all those who have been separated from loved ones as they leave this life in hospitals and nursing homes, then cannot give thanks for those lives and affirm eternal hope in the presence of family and friends.
Regular readers will know how strongly I feel about the importance of rituals around leave-taking at the time of death and what I'm convinced is the mistake of not acknowledging grief in the company of others. I always wanted to preside at these services in ways that combined solemnity, gratitude, and Christian hop in the face of death. There are a number of you with whom I feel a deep bond because we walked through the valley of the shadow of death together when your loved ones died. Others have sung in choirs at funerals or attended as an act of solidarity.
A few days ago a wonderful member of a former congregation died and the public notice stated that a service will be held later because of the current circumstances. While it is the present reality it left me feeling hollow.
I saw an interview with the proprietor of several funeral homes in Sudbury, where we lived for more than a decade. Not only did I work with him often, he was a member of the congregation and we chatted often about our respective roles. They are still providing funeral and memorial services with social distancing and gatherings of fewer than ten, which usually means a handful of family members. They also provide streaming of services in their chapels. This too may change, depending on government directives. I know that the United Church has instructed clergy not to preside at services until a later date which will be difficult when other aspects of pastoral care are prohibited as well.
I wonder if families should be having the obviously tough conversations about what steps they will take if a loved one goes into isolation because of illness, or what they will do if a death occurs. It may not be pleasant, and we're all trying to stay positive, but talking about this openly and honestly could be the loving thing to do.