QUESTION: Our neighbors’ 93-year-old mother, who was living in a nursing home, recently passed away from heart failure. They had been unable to see her for the past six or seven months because of the shutdown although they did talk to her on the phone. They learned she died alone and are grief-stricken that this had to happen. We’ve known these folks for the 30 years we’ve lived here and moved into tract housing the same time they did. They’re like family to us and we are at a loss of what to say or how to comfort them except for a sympathy card and taking food to them. They keep telling us they feel guilty and ask if there was something they could have done. Please help us help them.
~ Caring Neighbors
Dear Caring Neighbors,
There are many families who have had to deal with this kind of situation in today’s world. And it is very sad and heartbreaking to know that family members had to make their transition seemingly alone or without family and friends with them at the time of transition. There is nothing this family could have done physically, other than the phone calls, to change the circumstances.
By your presence with them, bringing food, sending a sympathy card, calling them and, most importantly, to just listening to them is the most valuable things you can do. When someone is in grief, just being present and holding their hand, handing them a tissue, and just listening without offering advice is really appreciated by those grieving.
At some point you could suggest grief counseling support groups. They are very helpful and they will find out that they are not alone in dealing with this kind of situation.
There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages do not always happen in order. But when the griever understands the process, they realize at some point there is a light at the end of the tunnel and their pain can lessen. Willie Nelson has a song about losing someone with a line that says “You don’t get over it, but you get through it.” It just takes time.
I believe that when you love someone that love continues on in the afterlife; it never dies. At some point, you may suggest that they write a letter to their departed family member expressing their feelings. That gives them the opportunity to “speak and share” with them, and may help relieve some guilt.
Since you have known this family for a long time even you may be feeling grief with their loss. Be present with them, listen, speak from your heart, and together, in time, you can appreciate having shared this loss together.
Prayers for peace, understanding and acceptance,
Laney Clevenger, RScP Emeritus
Dear Caring Neighbors,
There was nothing more your friends could have done in light of the circumstances. There is nothing to blame or hate themselves for nor anything to feel guilty or ashamed about. They did not fail their mother. No doubt, had we not been in the middle of a pandemic, they would have been by her side, had a chance to say goodbye and show their love, comfort and support for her during her transition. The fact they were unable to do so was not a failure on their part. Everyone who lost someone in similar circumstances during this time is all in the same boat. The gift you can give them is to help them change their mind about what happened, to see it a little differently, to put it in a new perspective and thereby help relieve their suffering. How do you do that? Well, let us look at a few ways.
It was the Buddha who pointed out that all suffering is the result of ignorance; it is out of ignorance that all fear comes. This is the original sin the Bible refers to. As human beings, we are all born into ignorance. No one gives us a roadmap. We learn from our family, our society and our religious traditions about how to navigate this world. But no one gets it entirely right and we are always in the process of discovery and new revelations as our understanding grows. And all of us are at differing levels of understanding.
Death, for many, remains the great unknown, shrouded in the great realm of ignorance. As a result, since all fear comes from ignorance, death is a source of suffering for many.
As Socrates once pointed out, the only cure for ignorance is knowledge. We are blessed by the work of such scientists as Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who devoted so much study to the process of dying and recording the experiences of those who clinically died and were brought back. They all tell a common story of being surrounded by this incredible love and sense of well being at the moment of their passing, of meeting departed family members or beings they felt were Jesus or Buddha or Muhammad (depending upon their religious beliefs) who assisted them in reviewing their life and the lessons they learned. Oftentimes they reportedly are told to either go back to complete their experiences on earth and some were given the choice of going back or remaining. None of them described death as unpleasant; everything was made clear. Not only that but they were, at the time of their death, aware of their loved ones and what they were doing, where they were, and what they were thinking and feeling. Most did not want to return. For those who did return and shared their stories, all of them said they lost their fear of dying.
I think what will be most comforting to your friends is at the time of their passing all of them felt this incredible overpowering, forgiving, embracing and unreserved love, caring and support from the Divine. In the eyes of others, we may appear to die alone, but we are never left alone. We are always surrounded, cared for and sustained by God.
After my father had passed, I was anxious to know he was all right. I had an acquaintance who could see things many of us cannot. I asked her about my dad. She had never met him, nor had I ever spoken of him to her. She laughed and said they had a big party for him and he was delighted because they served all his favorite foods. I began laughing because my father was a real “foodie.” It was enough to know he was okay. If your friends have access to YouTube, encourage them to view the TED talk “Dying to Be Me” by Anita Moorjan. The first couple of minutes are a little grueling where she discusses her own illness. So I would recommend beginning at the 2:30 minute mark. I think your neighbors will find it both enlightening and a great comfort.
Anthony Kelson, RScP
QUESTION: After three years of marriage, we pulled out all of the stops and decided to have a baby. Last February, before much was known about COVID-19, we found out our little girl will be welcomed into the world Oct. 10. Now we’re being criticized by several friends for bringing a child into the world in these tumultuous times. These same friends (?) who we no longer consider our friends claimed we’re narcissistic, which couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re excited to be first-time parents though we still have these criticisms hanging over our heads. Our biological families support us, thank God! What we’d like to know is how to answer negative comments if/when they happen again.
~ Happily Expecting
Dear Happily Expecting,
First of all, congratulations on your new little bundle of joy expected Oct. 10!
Spoiler alert: I have no children by my own choice because I read a book called “The Population Bomb” in the ’60s by Paul Ehrlich. My mother was disappointed but I was the oldest of four boys, and two of my brothers have kids, one adopted.
There are lots of reasons to have children, not the least is ego (“I wonder what our kid will look like?”) and social pressure, both from parents and others. But I think it’s totally out of line for your former friends to give you a hard time because you are having a child. As my wife says (and she is childless too due to a necessary operation when she was 35 – she and I are on our second spouses), it’s none of your former friends’ darn business! And my wife wonders why the guff from your friends? Are they jealous because they can’t have any? Are they selfish because now you’ll probably hang out with other parents and not them? Again, it’s really not their business.
Above I mentioned Paul Ehrlich’s book. In fact, the U.S. homegrown population is actually down a little bit. We may have more people because of immigration, but Americans are actually having fewer than two children per couple. So enjoy your little girl and love her, please. Some people had children who should not have because they turned out to be lousy parents. And I think it’s a fact that there are plenty of unwanted children in our prison system. But since this is your first and not your 10th (!), again I say congratulations! I’m going to guess that your little girl may never realize how lucky she’ll be because you are her parents!
The Rev. C. L. “Skip” Lindeman
Dear Happily Expecting,
Congratulations! What a glorious blessing for your family! Your daughter will be arriving soon and it sounds like your family will love and cherish her.
There’s nothing quite like bringing a child into your home and hearts at any time, but particularly your first daughter. My Italian papa used to say, “A son is a son ’til he takes a wife. A daughter’s a daughter for the rest of your life!”
Sadly it sounds like not everyone shares your joy. Yes, we live in a world with many and varied maladies. Some are based on ego while others result from years of neglect. Still others are rooted in processes for which we have yet to find adequate solutions. These are tumultuous times indeed!
When we face uncertain times, many find it necessary to judge and critique the lives of others. It’s a sad reality of our humanness when we attempt to minimize our discomfort by marginalizing others. The situation is further exacerbated when those we consider to be like-minded surprise us with a lack of support and even resort to name-calling.
I appreciate these versions of Scripture regarding judgment: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and fail to notice the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me get the speck out of your eye’, when there is a plank in your own? You fraud! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you can see clearly enough to remove your brother’s speck of dust.” Matthew 7:3 (Phillips)
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (NIV) Luke 6:37
“So don’t get ahead of the Master and jump to conclusions with your judgments before all the evidence is in. When he comes, he will bring out in the open and place in evidence all kinds of things we never even dreamed of – inner motives and purposes and prayers. Only then will any one of us get to hear the ‘Well done!’ of God.” (MSG) 1 Corinthians 4:5
The question is if we wait until every aspect of our lives and the state of the world to align positively, would we ever really feel comfortable procreating? History is rife with times of tremendous hardship and yet our spirits yearn to surround ourselves with a family who will walk with us, provide strength and comfort when our lives seem unmanageable. We crave the freshness and promise of new life.
Having children is an intensely personal choice. The reality is that you don’t need to justify your decision to have a baby – now or ever. Perhaps you can find a way to gently remind your friends that you didn’t enter into this season of your life lightly and that you’d be delighted if they would honor your choices. Should they determine not to support you, perhaps, at the very least, they’ll appreciate the agency you have over your life and choose to leave you to raise your new family.
Some final encouragement from Scripture: “If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.” Mark 6:11 (MSG)
“Let everything you do be done in love [motivated and inspired by God’s love for us].” 1 Corinthians 16:14 (AMP)
Be well & be blessed!