Ever present God, things happen and we are shocked. We hear as if through a bubble. We struggle to comprehend what we have heard or seen or experienced. Reality fades as our system tries to process what is going on. God, in the midst of this, we know you are there. We read in scripture and know you are with your people regardless of their circumstances, behaviors, or feelings. We know you are with us regardless of how it looks, or seems or feels. You promise to never leave us or forsake us. We trust you even now – even with this. We trust you with the details of what next and what if. As our shock turns into cries for mercy, we know you are a God of mercy. We know you are a God who loves us and who cares about our pain. God, show us your glory. Show us your mercy. Show us your peace. Show us your healing. In your all powerful name, Amen. (Rev. Shannon Jordan, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Decatur, Alabama)
Ruth 1:1-22; Psalm 31:1-5; Psalm 40:1-3; John 11:17-14
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10 (NIV)
“You will feel safe because there is hope.” Job11:18 (ICB)
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (ESV)
By the fourth day, you’ve likely received your test results. You’ve probably endured a few days, or at least a few hours, of waiting and not knowing. It’s excruciating, especially if you believe that you or your loved one are sick. You may have then experienced relief and even elation if you’ve tested negative. But if you’ve tested positive, you’ve likely experienced grief and shock. You may have even been numb. I have received both types of test results and I have experienced all those emotions. I’m standing with you in solidarity of whatever you were (or are currently) feeling.
Our loved one called on a Monday morning. By Monday afternoon, Blake and I had been tested. The kids had to be tested on Tuesday because our pediatrician’s office was closed for the holiday and the on-call nurse advised that we talk to the pediatrician first for advice on a testing location. On Tuesday morning, the pediatrician’s office sent us to a clinic in a neighboring town for drive-thru testing. Our appointment was late in the afternoon. By that time, Blake had received his results – negative! But I had not received mine. Other family members who had been tested after us at the same clinic on Monday had received their results also – negative! While I was overjoyed at this news, I began to worry why my results had not come in. I tested first. Where are my results? Is it positive? Does the lapse in time mean they are contacting the health department? Why aren’t they calling me?
When we arrived at the children’s testing facility, I had still not heard and decided to put my fears aside and concentrate solely on my kids. Just as they were asking us to roll down our windows, I got the call. Negative! I nearly jumped through the floorboard, crying out the results to Blake with tears of joy streaming down my face. I had new confidence that both my kids were negative too.
The testing was a horrible experience for them. While Blake and I had the nostril swirl, the kids had those terrible brain poke tests (note: it really doesn’t poke your brain, but it goes up your nostril and down your throat and you feel like your brain is being poked). We decided Astin would go first. We couldn’t explain the test to her and there was no way she would do it if she saw Flynn go first. They missed the first time and I had to climb in the back and hold her down. She cried and screamed. It was terrible. But I will never forget that as I was holding her down and they were swabbing her, I looked over at Flynn, who had absolute terror in his eyes, and pleaded with him to be brave.
When they walked around to Flynn’s window, he gave the nurse a dirty look and casually rolled it back up. I had to roll it down again and activate the child lock. I again told him to be brave, but in the end I had to hold him down too. It was all very traumatizing. But I had this (later I would find out, false) sense of security that because both mine and Blake’s tests were negative, and the rest of the younger family member’s tests were negative, that our kids would be negative too. That was Tuesday.
On Wednesday night at approximately 7:30 pm, I was sitting in our front living room. It doesn’t have a television but it has a wonderful window view, a beautiful but comfortable overstuffed white sofa, and two ergonomic chairs. My great grandmother’s 115-year old piano sits in one corner and shelves of books line the other wall. The kids call it their Lego room because I have corralled all the Legos in here in baskets and let them work at the mid-century modern secondhand coffee table I painted a few years ago that sits in the middle of the room. I come to this room to read or build Legos with my kids. That night I was reading on the couch while Astin and Flynn were building Legos.
Blake came running in. “Astin is negative, but Flynn is positive.” He was still on the phone with the clinic when he told me and he walked right back out.
I dropped my book and stared at my beautiful boy, the little man who first made me a mama. He was positive for this awful disease that we had been fearing and dreading from the nightly news for over three months. How could this be?
We’d done all the right things! They hadn’t been in public in months! I barely let them play outside with our neighbors, who had been isolating just as hard core as we were. I began to sob.
Blake came back in and said, “What do you want to do?” We quickly decided that Flynn would quarantine upstairs where his bedroom is. Also upstairs is his sister’s bedroom, a large landing, and a shared Jack-and-Jill bathroom.
We both walked him upstairs and explained what was going on. He didn’t seem sick. He didn’t look sick or act sick. He didn’t have any symptoms. I’m not sure he even understood. We told him he’d have to hang out in his room for the next two weeks and he could pick which one of us he wanted to stay upstairs with him.
“Mommy,” he said very quickly. But then we told him how fun it would be and he could play all the video games he wanted. “Daddy!” he shouted as he changed his mind. And that’s how Part One of our quarantine began.
I gave my boy a big hug before I left (I can only speculate that this might have been the moment I contracted the virus) and went directly to my bedroom where I lay on the threshold between the master bedroom and the master bath. I sobbed and wailed and just froze. I couldn’t even pick myself up off the floor. The grief was overwhelming.
I don’t know if Blake called our priest or if I called him or if he called after texting with one of us, but the next thing I remember was wailing on the phone to him about how I was the worst mother in the world. God bless that man (I’m sure he already has) because he just sat there on the line with me and let me sob to him, which is strangely exactly what I needed at that moment.
Somehow I pulled myself together enough to get both myself and Astin to bed that night. I don’t remember anything other than doing things in slow motion and the incredibly heavy wave of grief that just kept washing over my body.
What seems like a lifetime ago, I would attend church with my Grandmother Mildred in Rogersville, Alabama. I have a very special future post planned that will describe my (very fond and wonderful) memories of going to church with her. Today, though, I want to talk about her Bible. Mildred was a devout Christian and carried her Bible with her everywhere. It was a soft-cover King James Version with Jesus’s words printed in red. What I remember most about her Bible was that it had vibrant photographs of Biblical sites in Israel and the Middle East sprinkled throughout its pages. This was in the early 1980s and the photos had this exquisite vintage quality that my friends’ high school daughters now use as Instagram filters, almost forty years later. I would spend HOURS looking at Mildred’s Bible at church, in her brown wood grained station wagon, at her house, and at the cosmetic studio and jewelry boutique she owned downtown. If I was with Mildred and she had her Bible, I was looking at those pictures.
The photograph that stands out the most in my memory was titled “Woman at the Wailing Wall.” It was probably taken in the 1970s and was of a woman dressed in all black standing at the Wailing Wall located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The wall is less about grief and more about sacred prayer and pilgrimage for those of the Jewish faith (and I want to be clear, by recounting this memory, it is not my intent to minimize the importance of the Wall; I truly believe its importance is beyond my comprehension), but my kindergarten brain associated it with grief because at the time I was certain that woman in black (photographed in the 1970s, mind you) was Mary, Jesus’s mother, mourning the loss of the son. Now, whenever I think of grief, I think of this woman. She is still the physical manifestation of grief in my mind.
I thought of this woman from the photograph as I lay on the floor of my bedroom that Wednesday night. I see her every time I am faced with grief. Later when I would find out about the significance of the wall, I knew that for whatever reason she was there, she was there to seek God.
When we are grief stricken, it is vital we seek God. Mary and Martha sought Jesus in their grief over Lazarus. Jesus says in John 11:40 (NIV), “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Believe that God will raise you up from that cold floor where you are slumped in grief. He will.
Even though this photograph was placed in the New Testament of Mildred’s Bible, the woman in black also reminded me of Naomi in the Old Testament, who lost her entire family, save for two daughters-in-law. Even in her bitter grief, one of those daughters, Ruth, chooses to remain with Naomi as she continued to mourn. There are people who will sit with you in your grief just like Ruth did. Let them.
Grief is a heavy burden, and you WILL grieve a COVID positive test result, whether it is yours or a loved one’s. You will go through all the stages of grief (and we’ll talk more about that in a future post). You need God and you need others during this time. Let others help you. If there is no one there to help you, reach out to a local church. Reach out to someone. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to guide you to a starting line of resources. Just know that you are not alone in your grief. That woman in that old Bible photo was pictured alone. But she wasn’t alone. God was near her. And God is near you too.
Tips from a weary mama:
The COVID grief is real. The shock is real. Acknowledge it early on because if you don’t it will sneak up and surprise you in other ways. Talk to your kids about grief. If you are caring for a small child, this may be the first time they have encountered grief. It’s confusing, so it’s important that you talk openly about it.
It may be painful, but describe the day that you found out you or your loved one was COVID positive. How did you hear your results? Describe the wide range of emotions that you felt.
Do some light Internet research on grief and each of its stages. List those stages and begin to prepare for them. They are coming. Use this journal entry to anticipate them and how you will handle them.
God of grace, look with compassion on all who are suffering from poor health, especially those affected by COVID-19. Make them aware of your healing presence and give them strength, patience, and peace to face the days ahead. We ask this in the name of your son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (John Bagby, Episcopal Priest, Birmingham, Alabama)
We are almost a month removed from our loved one’s diagnosis and the grief is still real and raw. It’s hard to read or watch the news and not feel the same overwhelm I felt on that Wednesday night. Pay attention to your overwhelm and draw clear boundaries for yourself so you can lean into God and begin to heal from the shock and move through your grief.
Yesterday I had chosen to write about grief today. When I awoke this morning, I began to telework for my actual job, which surprisingly is not COVID nurse to Flynn and myself. On my agenda of things to do today, I wrote “Call Jack*” Before I had a chance to call Jack, I received an email that he’d passed away this morning. This actually happened on the day I was to write about grief. Jack was my coworker but more importantly he was my friend. He was wise and kind, and today my heart grieves for him. We shared many a car ride conversation and although our political views could not have been more polar opposite, we always had open, honest, and respectful conversations that challenged us both to grow. As we grew personally from those conversations, our friendship grew and I will always be indebted to him for encouraging me to be better than what I thought I could be. I’m going to miss my buddy and as I publish this post tonight, I remember my friend.
*Name has been changed to protect his identity