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Moving Through Grief

The Rev. Laurel Hart, Deacon

Scripture: Psalm 4

It occurred to me as I was preparing this homily that some present may be new to our community or our denomination, so I want to say a few words about the ministry order of Deacons. In the Episcopal Church we have three orders of clergy, Bishops, Priests and Deacons. I’m ordained as a deacon sometimes referred to as a vocational deacon. Occasionally, one might hear the term transitional deacon. This is a person who is typically a seminary student, in the final term of their studies, who serves as a deacon for a year after which they are ordained a priest by a Bishop.

When I was ordained, during the portion of the service called “The Examination” (pg. 543 in the BCP), Bishop Michael read the following words to me “God now calls you to a special ministry of servant hood directly under your Bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the week, the sick, and the lonely.” A few sentences later he continues with these words “you are to interpret to the church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” So - that is my job as an ordained deacon – to “talk” to the parish community about what I see, hear, and encounter as the needs of the world in our neighborhoods, our parish community, and in our city. Agreeing to these vows obligates me to encourage and support the work which needs to be done by all of us following the example of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Currently one of my concerns is all the unresolved emotions, built up during the previous year, emotions that many people including myself are holding inside our bodies; emotions such as fear, anger, distrust, confusion, uncertainty but most of all the unresolved grief in the world due to the pandemic. We just want this time and situation to be finished – we want the unnatural way of life we’ve endured during this past year to end. I want to go shopping and not have to return to my car for the mask I forgot to put on. I want to hug my younger son, visit in person with my siblings, and my other beloved family members. I want to see a movie, a play, a concert. I don’t want to worry any more about the safety of my loved ones.

Due to vaccines this scourge is winding down but according to a recent article in the New York Times there is another one looming which involves millions of bereaved people, wracked by the suffering that the loss of a loved one can bring. This is a public health crisis with consequences that may last generations. A team of sociologist at Pennsylvania State University, recently led a study that introduced the Covid-19 Bereavement Multiplier. By this team’s calculations, for every person who dies of Covid-19, nine loved ones are left behind. When you include other relatives — like nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, stepparents — and friends you may get 10 times or more people in grief and they may have lost more than one loved one. This is an additional burden to communities of color owing to their higher ratio of deaths from covid because of the economic inequalities and systemic racism in health care and other institutions in the USA. The Biden administration is being called upon to establish the first White House office of bereavement care to respond to the emotional and financial needs of grieving people after a tragedy. Dealing with grief is something our President seems to understand to the very core of his being. I recently read that FEMA is offering reimbursement for burial expenses for families who’ve lost a loved one due to covid. This is only one way of supporting people. As a community we need to be aware of these situations so that we can follow the example of Jesus to love all the ways we are able. We can’t make grief go away – we all know it doesn’t, but grief evolves, it can diminish in intensity, we can and do learn to live with it. In time, hopefully, we can turn our focus to the good memories of those who we have lost.

Still, grief recovery can be a very personal, lonely journey and most often private prayer time is the only answer to ease the pain of our hearts. As a liturgical church we generally are extremely comfortable with corporate praying following the Book of Common Prayer. Less we forget, when we read the Psalms in church, we’re reading from the songbook of the Jewish people – who are our direct forbearers. These are the very same psalms Jesus knew, recited, and loved. We aren’t taught in the Episcopal Church how to pray spontaneously without written text so sometimes teaching ourselves in private is the best way to learn and feel comfortable doing this. There are times when the individual believer needs to practice some intentional time alone in the presence of God. Reciting this psalm is an excellent way to begin and in time grow comfortable then to begin using one’s own words. The psalmist says, “answer me when I call, O God of my right”. We also hear a proverb, thanksgiving, and a spiritual resolve in these few short verses.

We live in a world of endless activity and constant noise – everywhere we look people young and old have their noses pointed at a smart phone screen. As I lay my head on my pillow each night all I want is a blanket of stillness to envelop me in a feeling of tranquility. If I’m too tired to find my own words the psalm helps give me this beautiful closing verse “I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” Amen.

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