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We are living in a surreal time of isolation and social distancing. We’re hiding behind masks, glass windows, locked doors and barriers. We are experiencing fear, loneliness, sadness, and a lack of connection with friends, family, neighbors and fellow parishioners. We are even keeping our distance from God in our familiar setting of church.

And yet, we are also living in a time of gift, of giving, of helping, of praying, of playing, of working together, of communicating. We are reaching down and reaching out, digging deeper to find meaning in what seems to be our imagined end times. We are re-discovering old values, focusing on what really matters, listening, creating, and spending time in silence and solitude with our God who is present in this chaos.

It is important to acknowledge our emotions, to treat them with care, to find healthy ways to deal with them, to share them, to ritualize them. Each one of us must be aware of our own needs and be conscious of the needs of those around us so together we might experience a community of hope, faith and love in our little section of the world, in our local settings and in the global perspective.

A moment such as this entered my life on the day our quarantine began. It was St. Patrick’s Day 2020, the first time our Irish family couldn’t celebrate its proud heritage: no East Side Irish Mass, no breakfast or meal together, no parade, no celebration with dancing and music.

I called my brother, Michael, to catch up on his life and health. After pondering our conversation that evening, I woke up in the morning to the realization that this man was dying. I then received a text that he had been taken to emergency and was put into the hospital where no one could see him. I sent him a lengthy text saying the things I wanted to say while I still could. Two days later he was gone; our family couldn’t see each other, grieve together, celebrate him or his life, console his wife and children or silently embrace.

We all had to find our own way: my youngest brother made house calls to leave flowers, dinners or bakery on our doorsteps; my sister baked sweets and hung them in bags on our doors; another brother took down a tree whose branches had fallen across Mike’s driveway. And our brother, Chris, waited in heaven with Mom and Dad to welcome their oldest son and brother as he walked through those heavenly gates to the words God spoke: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Living here at Merici Crossings with 67 other Ursuline sisters, I found sympathy and support in their long distance hugs and words of comfort, from the consoling words expressed in beautiful cards, notes, and calls from many friends and extended family. But I still needed to put closure on this special relationship with the older brother who “had my back,” who teased and tortured me sometimes, who watched over me always, and who called me to meet him for breakfast often. I found consolation in several ways during this unusually quiet time.

  • First of all, a priest friend offered his Mass for Michael the morning after he died.
  • I sat in my sacred prayer space and invited Michael to join me in an experience of “kything,” a conversation together in a spiritual presence where we could finish saying the things that had been left unsaid by his unexpected death.
  • I sent some very poignant “words of wisdom” from Snoopy to the members of my family.
  • I listened to 20 members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra play Ode to Joy from their homes beginning with one string instrument and picking up one more instrument each time until the whole of the orchestra’s instruments were playing with resounding jubilation as I sent Michael off with great joy to meet his God.
  • Finally, I watched a short video of people bursting into broad smiles, unrestrained enthusiasm and confident shouts as they received a significant message on their phones and passed it on to others who responded with equal excitement and abundant joy at hearing about a great surprise. When the news had been spread to everyone, the words at the end of the video said: “The tomb is empty. He has risen!” I sent it to my family and told them, “I think this is how Michael felt when he realized he was alive again!”
  • And I was happy for him!

I hope that sharing my grieving process will help you find the symbols, rituals, traditions and prayer to deal with your own losses, whatever they may be.

Sister Julianne McCauley, OSU