Parish of the Immaculate Conception and St. Killian Clondalkin
Fr. Michael Shortall describes how his family dealt with the loss of a loved one during these strange times.
Grieving and remembering during the lockdown
My father died during the lockdown. He didn’t contract the COVID-19 virus; but his final weeks of care and dying, as well as our period of mourning, were all shaped by it. Some rituals had to be abandoned; others, because of technology, took on new forms.
In life, Dad took seriously the responsibility of going to funerals. Of course, there was the social aspect, the obligatory raising of a glass in honour of someone. But it was also to use an old phrase, a corporeal work of mercy: “to pray for the dead”. This obligation can be especially strong in rural areas, like my home in northern Kilkenny. Because when someone dies, it’s a community as much as a family that loses someone.
Now, our community couldn’t do the same for him – or at least not in the same way. I can still see the big wooden doors of the church shutting behind us, allowing no-one in. To say we felt robbed or cheated can imply that there is someone to blame. There isn’t. The restrictions were the right thing to do. Yet, we really felt the lack of it. The peculiarly Irish rituals surrounding the death of a loved one weren’t available to us, or our neighbours and friends, and most of all to Dad.
“We had a small funeral. Half the world was there,” my mother said afterwards. People adapted as best they could, and technology helped hugely. It was striking how many people tuned to the live stream on the parish website. It especially helped my sister, who lives abroad and couldn’t make it home. She was even able to participate, as she led a decade of the family rosary on her smart-phone, from three thousand miles away.
Many people have heard of the five phases in the process of grieving. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross famously named the stages as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But this can give impression that there is a right way to grieve. Experience tells that everyone has their own way of grieving and sometimes someone can get stuck. Getting through grief is a matter of managing or muddling through.
Instead of stages, recent research names four tasks to grieving. They are: recognising the reality of the loss; dealing with expressed and latent feelings; living in a world without the deceased and finally; the relocation of the deceased in one’s life.
It would be a great social cost indeed, if these often-called ‘strange times’ changed our habits about how we support the grieving. It would, I believe, make it all the harder for those enduring loss.
Rituals, traditions and customs are vital. They may be the kind acts of a neighbour that leaves in a casserole or an apple tart left at the door; or they may be the religious rites of a faith-community. They provide a way to recognise the reality of grieving, in all its emotions and confusion. They give comfort to those who mourn. And in the end, they give hope for a new future.
Remembering is a key part of our Catholic rituals. When we gather to celebrate Mass, we are heeding the invitation of Jesus to: “do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). When we gather and remember his name, a promise was made that he would be with us (M 18:20).
So, by remembering in Jesus, we are bound to the one giving hope, for he has conquered even death itself (Rom 8: 31-39).
Nowadays death notices on local radio – which are very much part of rural life – generally end with a line saying that a memorial service will be held at a later date. As a family I know we are looking forward to when we can remember Dad, together with his community, in a spirit of hope.
Let us pray for all who have lost loved ones in this time, particularly due to the COVID-19. May they rest in peace.
Dr. Michael Shortall is Registrar of St. Patrick’s College Maynooth and a lecturer in Moral Theology.
Dr Gaven Kerr is a philosophy lecturer at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth
As the coronavirus sweeps across the world, our reaction to it – short of finding a cure – is either to succumb, or to avoid it through social distancing and lock down. The coronavirus makes us mindful of the fact that whilst our intelligence can give us a technical mastery over nature, nature is not our slave and we can succumb to its devastations. As such, people are (re)turning to God, since God is the only agent who does have the mastery over nature to which we aspire.
Yet some may think it foolish to turn to God in such a crisis; indeed some may even go so far as to say that this crisis is positive evidence that God does not exist; for how could such a good God, the God of love, allow this disaster to happen to us? Either God does not care, in which case He doesn’t love us, or He is unable to do anything about the current situation.
Yet, scripture is very clear that God is love and that He has a design for us which ultimately entails our salvation (cf. 1 Jn 3, and 1 Th 4:3). Scripture is also clear that God is master over all of creation (cf. Gen 1). So how does one committed to these truths address the role of God in the current crisis?
Whilst scripture is clear that God loves us, such love is manifested in His will for our salvation. But as is made clear time and again in scripture, our salvation does not consist in a life free from hardship; rather it consists in living by God’s grace so that when we come to die we may enjoy His presence in eternity. In short, our salvation is communion with God and to live by the very happiness with which God is happy (Jn 17:3).
Furthermore, although God is the primary cause of all things and master over all of creation, this does not exclude what philosophers call secondary causality. Just as a person can make use of his hands to move a stick to move a stone thereby allowing the hand-stick-stone to share in his causality, so too does God permit creatures to share in His causality so that creatures can act as causes within creation.
Insofar as God is pure love and goodness, all causal interaction in the world which seeks to promote and disperse the good is in fact a participation in God’s primary causality which He exercises in creation. And this is especially relevant during the current pandemic.
Without any effort God could bring to nothing all ills in creation from start to finish, but if He were to do so, creatures would be mere puppets with no causality by which they could act in the world; they would in effect be mere characters in a story. Rather God dignifies creatures with an ability to act and to share in His own causality, and this is especially so for humans who are rational and can make decisions to manifest God’s goodness in the world.
Hence in regard to the current coronavirus pandemic, God permits humans the dignity of coming together and acting in such a way that they can deal with this crisis. This is manifest not only in the turning to God that is occurring all over the world, but also in the turning to one’s neighbour to ensure his or her good, whether it be through key workers, family, or colleagues. Indeed, the turn to both God and neighbour is illustrative of the primary and secondary commandments that Christ places on his disciples: to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself (Mt 22: 36 – 40).
Accordingly, far from being a situation in which the presence of God in the world is cast into significant doubt, the current crisis continues to reveal to humanity their place within and not above nature, but at the same time the goodness and dignity with which God graces humanity in coming through this crisis.This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.