7 Tips for Grieving at Home in the Time of COVID
Create an online Zoom memorial service – Gather friends and family through email, Facebook, Instagram, or any other means. Find one especially mature, experienced, and kind spiritual leader or friend to facilitate. Invite a few others to read prayers, poems, and holy texts; sing songs, and offer memories. Invite everyone to come to the session with a candle. Any service structure can work, but you may want to begin and end with a prayer (or a nod to the Holy) with candle lighting, and wrap up the sharing time in the center with readings, songs, and prayers. End with a moment of silence, then by blowing out the candles together. Shared singing does not work over Zoom, so find a few with good voices to offer solos or invite all to mute and sing along. Time limits on the sharing are helpful – get a timekeeper just in case. (Take it from a bishop – it’s an absolute disaster when one thoughtless person takes over this sacred time.) Most important: when all are gathered before you on the screen, and before the service begins, take the time to pause, just to take in the faces. Float on their presence with you.
Host an online wake – If you’ve never been to an Irish wake, you’ve missed a rich way to grieve; sorrow comes wrapped in laughter, whiskey, hugs, tears, and earthy, unfiltered stories. The benefit? A wake might carry less stigma for the religiously suspicious than a memorial service. Maybe you have both, for different audiences. Invite the group to gather over Zoom, to bring a candle and a beverage of any type, perhaps a prepared toast to the memory of your loved one, and buckle in for an hour or an evening of memories. You will learn more than you can imagine about a person you love.
Private Rites, Create a shrine – This one may be the easiest, inspired by the many and diverse cultures that honor the dead with private shrines. Find an unused corner in your house or apartment and gather tiny tokens that represent the life of your loved one. Begin with a framed photo that reveals your lost one’s true essence. It does not need to be framed – perhaps even better to choose one that invites you to a place of connection instead of the one you’ve had framed but doesn’t reveal a true soul or spirit. Place before the photo things like candles, photos, rings, slips of paper with meaningful words to you both, scripture verses, poems, or maybe a stone from a time at the beach. Perhaps you even write a letter to the deceased. Add elements as feels right. Were they artistic? Add a paintbrush. A bird lover? A feather. Go from there. Keep the shrine up as long as you like, and don’t feel guilty when it is time to dismantle it. By then, it will have served its purpose.
Write a letter to God – Are you angry with God? Confused? Lost and alone? Write a letter to the Divine – don’t hold back any emotion. God can handle it. Write it on paper, in your own hand, with a pen you like. Make it as long as necessary. Fold it up. Tight! Find a bowl that can handle the heat. Take both outside and burn the letter. Swear, sing or pray, as necessary. Release the ashes. Breathe.
Find a rock – As my spiritual director at St. Gertrude’s advised, find a rock which somehow can carry the weight and shape of your relationship with your loved one. Smooth relationship? Smooth rock. Complex? Rough rock! Short but intense? Maybe small but interesting! Once you find one – and that may take a time of searching – walk with it. Make sure you walk a meaningful distance; the body needs to grieve. Perhaps you wrap the rock in a poem or scripture written on a sheet of paper, or a piece of cloth. Then, create a ritual as you bury it. Sing. Pray. Read the 23rd Psalm. Talk to your Creator. Breathe.
Walking mediation – Ancient labyrinths like the one in Chartres Cathedral are useful because they invite us to pray with our bodies and carve out a limited amount of time for the prayer – a sanctuary in time, in other words, to spend in communing with the Source of All That Is. Walking meditation is like this. Perhaps you set one hour, or thirty minutes, for example. The weather does not have to be perfect; just try to avoid a downpour or subzero winds. Walk your local park or the streets of your neighborhood with a mantra (“Into your hands, O God, I release her,” or the name of the person with a few loving words, or a psalm or poem or word). You will find as you go that the words will fit your steps. They may sing in your heart all day.
Create a book of memories – Are you a collector? A journal-keeper? You may want to create a book as an act of grieving. Gather photos, ticket stubs, or meaningful bits of your life. Add color with crayons or colored pencils. Add words that evoke moments in time. Or find a journal and devote it to your own writing of memories. Poems. Scripture. You do not have to show this to anyone. It’s a process, not a product. If you’ve created a shrine, keep it there.
All of these ideas are meant to help carry you through. We need one another, now more than ever. Please share your own ideas of best practices for walking through grief in the time of COVID.
I’m writing this for any of us who will lose someone in this COVID season. Here are a few tips for grieving at home and online until we can mourn together again, in person.
Posted on GDL Web site 4/1/2020
Beloved Gloria Dei Family,
We're getting the hang of this online/Zoom worship thing, right?
It can only get better. I now believe this is a learn-by-doing process.
And, no, they didn't teach any of this in seminary.
I've had lots of lovely comments from so many of you. Thank you.
And thanks also to Becky Bell-Greenstreet, our musician, and Doris Smith and Kallie Mill, our soloists.
If you would like to tune in to a really great Holden Evening Prayer/Vespers service on Wednesday,
I would suggest tuning in to hear the service at at San Marcos Lutheran Church, where my long-time friend, the Rev. David Jorstad, is pastor.
A channel for San Marcos Lutheran Church in San Marcos California. We are a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Whoever you ar...
I've known David since I was 8. That's when his father, Paul, was called to serve my home congregation, Faith, in Southern California. The Rev. Paul Jorstad served our congregation for 27 years. After retirement, Paul and his wife, Monita (Monnie), served several years with me on Pacifica Synod's LGBT Task Force. David and I went to different high schools, and he was a year younger than me. He went to seminary shortly after college graduation. We've always been fast friends, spent hours together in Luther League, and loved each other's parents.
Be safe, be well,
The Rev. Peggy J. Yingst
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
1290 Thompson Road, Coos Bay, Oregon 97420
Office: 541-267-2347 Text: 802-579-1948
Special Message from Pastor Melissa,
Bishop’s Associate for Vital Leadership
& Sacramental Organizing
Siblings in the Word-Womb of our Creator,
I invite you to read Mark 14:3-9.
“She broke the jar and poured perfume on his head.”
Sunday was my daughter’s birthday. No party with friends, but a Zoom (video) call with east coast family and a cake expertly decorated by small, still chunky-hands. Strawberries and blueberries erupted from the frosting, much like she erupted into the world six years ago, with tenacity and life-force like her name and namesakes, Brigid, which means “fiery arrow.” I was just wrapping my heart around the simultaneous joy and courage her fierce love brings me with the deep sadness settling into my bones – that this day on this year, a day which means “future” for me, was now cloaked with expansive fear -- when I learned of my colleague, Pastor Ray McKechnie’s death. As Bishop Laurie shared yesterday, Ray, a young, compassionate leader in our Synod, died of a heart attack that morning. I felt confused, turned inside out. We were really going to still light candles and sing “happy birthday”?! And, as I stood at the kitchen sink, breathing deeply, Brigid tugged on my shirt with those fleshy, warm hands, smiled, and said: “Time to bake the cake, Mama.”
Time to break the jar, friends.
She was right. It was time to bake the cake, lick the batter, light the candles, sing together for the blessing and privilege of this life together -- a life that the cross, grave and empty tomb reveal as shot through with a fiery arrow of Love that just keeps flying. For if not today, when? So, as I lit the birthday candles, I lit candles for the gift of Ray’s own fleshy hands and smile. I sang for the ways they blessed the world the day they erupted from the womb, and later the ways they touched his husband, Eric, friends, and his congregation members. I sang for the way they broke the bread and announced a fierce future together that will not be contained, not even by bigotry, quarantine isolation, or death. Happy birthday, Brigid and Ray!
In each of our communities, someone is isolated. In each of our communities, someone has been laid off, lies awake at night wondering how they will pay the bills next month or feed their family. In each of our communities, someone is grieving. And, we very well may be that someone. We may become that someone. My first go-to survival instinct is to put the jar on the shelf, to put the cake-mix back in the box (yes, I use a box) and the party on hold; but, I wonder if the woman in Mark’s gospel and her soul-sister, Brigid, might have it right: It’s precisely the time to bake the cake!
In these days the abundant gifts of our congregation and our leaders are going to become more valuable and important to one another and our larger communities than perhaps they have ever been. We are wild webs of relationships, fierce and vulnerable, deep and wide enough to hold all the gratitude and all the grief of these times. We not only break and share the bread and wine, but we become it – knowing, together, with Jesus, we can be reformed and transformed by God’s promises in whatever ways we need to be for whatever the hunger becomes in our midst. So, in the insisting fire of Brigid and the courageous woman with the jar, I invite you, my siblings and friends, to prayerfully (stop, breathe, lean in) consider ways you can break the jar and bake the cake in these coming weeks and months:
Continue, as you are able, to give courageously and regularly to your congregations in whatever ways it takes – mail a check, set up online giving through your church’s website (if available), set up automatic bill pay (available through most financial institutions). Say a prayer of thanks as you wet the stamp or click the button! This is a holy act. And, if your congregation needs to set up online giving, here are some resources from the ELCA.
If you have the ability to give more money during these times – perhaps other costs have diminished (like gasoline, salon appointments, etc.) or you have a stable income – consider doing so, knowing others may need to decrease their giving.
If you do need to decrease your giving, I encourage you to reach out to your pastor, deacon or congregational leader and let them know and share why – there is no shame in this need whatsoever! These are LIFE-matters and we accompany one another. You are not alone! You are holy.
Beyond our financial life, consider the gifts of presence, skills/expertise, and creativity that you want to consecrate and offer – as people and as congregations – in this reforming process God is up to in us. Can you drop groceries on a neighbor’s stoop? Can you host small group Zoom gatherings and prayer circles in your congregation? Can your building become a space of healing in a new way (we look to our Disaster Relief Team to mobilize us)? As always: we listen, discern, act, and learn together.
And, when you do, don’t forget to savor the sweetness in your souls, light the candles and sing with all the saints of every time and place, small ones and tall ones, those past, present, and future, for the gift of this fierce life our God pours out for us all.
Happy birthday, siblings! This day and each day.
Bishop’s Associate for Vital Leadership & Sacramental Organizing
2800 N. Vancouver Ave., Suite #101
Portland, OR 97227
Bishop Laurie Larson Caesar- BishopLaurie@OregonSynod.org
Bishop's Associate Juan Carlos La Puente- juancarlos@OregonSynod.org
Bishop's Associate Pr. Melissa Reed- pastormelissa@OregonSynod.org
Synod Office (Jemae McCanna)- office@OregonSynod.org
Disaster Preparadness Team (Jan Wierima) -email@example.com
Being church is not about worship only, here are a few other things to think about:
1. Check on your neighbors and each other. You older neighbors, your neighbor on chemo, your neighbor whose kid relies on free school lunch, your neighbor who still has to go to work and could use help with childcare… Any time you help someone in your proximity, you are living out the values of your faith community. You are embodying what the whole gospel thing is about, which takes church out of the building and brings it to life for others. This is what we go to church to learn how to do– it is ‘for such a time as this’ that you have spent all those other Sundays in worship. Both Barb Stevenson in North Bend, and Jenny Forbes in Coquille (cell) have offered to run errands, pick up groceries for those who are confined to their homes. Thank you!
2. Pray for your church family. And send notes. Make phone calls. All the things that we do for shut-ins, do for each other now that we are all shut-ins, so to speak. We are one body, even when that body is not together in the flesh. There are plenty of ways to stay connected in spirit, and care for each others’ spiritual needs. Heide Cummings’ book group cancelled its Friday dinner and gathering, but they have joined together to keep in touch via text in a group conversation.
3. Practice Sabbath. For some, this shutdown of life as we know it is going to cause significant economic hardship. In the spirit of #1, care for your neighbor as best as you can. In the meantime, recognize if your own discomfort is just inconvenience, and keep that perspective. Recognize that downtime can be a gift– an imposed sabbath of time to sit still and be with your family, without the usual rush of places to be and things to accomplish. Read together; prepare meals together; maybe even binge watch some Netflix together. When’s the last time everybody was home for this long? Talk about what you can learn from this season. Talk about your blessings. Play a game. Make something. Listen to music. It really doesn’t matter. Any of these things can be worshipful in their own way, if by ‘worship’ we mean rest and renewal by way of connecting with God and others.
4. Support your pastor and your church council, musicians, and other staff– all those who have to make the really hard decisions about how to gather in times of uncertainty. There is no road map for this, and there is no one right answer. Trust that the folks who ultimately make the call spent some time in prayer, discernment, and very difficult conversations. Know that they heavily weighed consequences, including your disappointment, and ultimately did what they thought was the best thing for the wellbeing of the community. Thank them for having your best interests at heart, and then
5. Send in your pledge. This may seem like a small thing in the grand scheme right now, but trust me. It matters that you continue to get your offering in, as long as you are fiscally able. This is a great time to reexamine online giving options, or to sign up for automatic withdrawal. You can call the church office and Violet will sign you up. Even the healthiest congregations, like Gloria Dei, can find themselves in the hole, and quick, after just a few Sundays of missed offerings. If you can’t give online, mail in a check, drop one by, send a carrier pigeon, do what you have to do. Even if the building is empty, bills and salaries need to be paid; what’s more, you’re helping your church maintain mission commitments to the community in a time when that commitment is more important than ever.
6. Until further notice the Gloria Dei office will be open regular hours.
We will remain in touch. We will continue being Church. Thank you. Blessings to you in this time of uncertainty. -Pastor Peggy Yingst