We are told well over 500,000 people have died from COVID-19 in United States, nearly 5,000 in Kansas, and more than 100 in Cowley County. (Nearly 2.7 million worldwide!) Yet there is not much public mourning or acknowledgement of these individuals, most of whom are older and die without the public knowing the cause of death. Something seems a bit callous about it all. How should we feel or respond?
I question if we have lost our sense of compassion and love for one another. If we’ve lost our ability to connect with those who are suffering and engage in the entirety of the human experience, even when it makes us uncomfortable. I question why it’s become so difficult to not only connect with the magnitude of death that has occurred, but why we have also failed as a society to even acknowledge the circumstances. Suffering and death MUST become more than just a number or a headline.
Take a mental expedition with me for a few moments. If we could imagine driving from Kansas City to Dallas, a trip of about 550 miles, and on the shoulder of the interstate lay the bodies of 500,000 individuals head to toe … Would we be impacted? Given the average height of an American is 5’9”, this would be a visual representation of the lives lost during the pandemic. Yes, 550 miles of bodies without end and 8 hours before the experience would cease.
May I submit that we as a society have such a deep fear of dying. We at times go to great lengths to avoid the most fundamental characteristics of humanity, knowing that as soon as we are born, we have been set on a course of death.
On April 23, 2020, Bishop William J. Barber II, DMin. of the Poor People’s Campaign sent an open letter to the U.S. Congress. Contained in that letter we find these words in which I believe we can all find value.
“In times like these, we need everybody to forget the misguided politics of divide and conquer and wheel and deal. Just for a moment, consider the politics of love, justice, and care for humanity.”
Rev. Brock Brown is an associate pastor at Second Baptist Church in Winfield. He loves God with his whole heart, has an insatiable thirst for the scriptures and is compassionate towards other. Contact him on Facebook or Twitter at @brockbrownorg.
It does seem callous or at the least, disconnected. The timing of our grieving rituals has been interrupted.
These rituals traditionally help individuals, families and communities honor those who have passed and allow us healing. When we are unable to come together in order to pay our last respects, it changes that process.
From the images of the refrigerated trucks outside of hospitals due to mortuaries not having room, to the isolation of our grieving the dead from afar, COVID-19 has impacted our rituals on many levels.
It became customary for cremation regardless of one’s beliefs. Public funerals or memorials are conducted weeks or months after the person has passed. Some families have done memorials for more than one family member even if the deaths occurred at different times.
Even when we came together to mourn, we questioned if we should limit the number of attendees, if masks should be worn and if we should hug.
I imagine that for some, keeping their distance from the grieving process could be a protective act. Being isolated from others, especially those we love, during our mourning can feel overwhelming, so keeping ourselves distanced from feeling the emotions surrounding death can be a natural response.
However, it does not change the number of COVID-19 deaths or the fact the most of us have a loved one who did not survive the virus.
Not having public acknowledgement of the cause of death and the invisibility because of the lack of public mourning does not negate their losses. At some point, we will need to grieve their losses on an emotional level.
I would like to mention that those living in the correctional setting are removed from these rituals even when a pandemic is not present. What we have experienced this past year concerning our grieving processes is standard operations for those who are imprisoned.
Schatzie Troup, LMSW, LMAC is a mental health provider at Winfield Correctional Facility. In recovery herself from mental health and substance use, she holds a master’s degree in social work from Wichita State University.
The coronavirus was certainly formidable as it arrived on the scene. The virus upset our routine and for many their livelihood and finally, took many lives.
God has made us to somehow bear pain, sorrow, and even tragedy. Sometimes the tragedy is overwhelming, and we are temporarily anesthetized in our response.
If you recall, some called the coronavirus a hoax, perhaps being gripped in a state of denial. Some may still be in denial.
The initial state of shock is needed because it keeps us from having to face a tragic reality all at once. This is a relatively short stage that lasts from a few minutes to a few days. Unfortunately, for many, the shock and denial of the coronavirus has lasted much longer.
Also, unlike other diseases and accidents that cause death, the coronavirus became a political issue. The coronavirus was hotly contested with misinformation and protective measures were ill received, even dismissed and ignored. Therefore, the process was hindered in embracing grief. The sooner the person deals with the immediate problems and makes decisions again, the better!
Intellectually as a nation, we knew about the coronavirus, but many had not accepted it emotionally. We just did not want to believe it, so unconsciously we set as many barriers as possible, making complete acceptance a terribly slow process.
Now that it has been a year and more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. due to the coronavirus, what do we need to do? We need to embrace the shortest verse in the King James version of the Bible: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). We need to grieve. We need to allow ourselves to express emotions that we feel.
The scriptures show that when great calamities came to hardy people of faith they wept bitterly. Their “tears were with them all the night long.”
Dennis Voth is pastor at Central Christian Church in Arkansas City.
In Ethics and Outlooks, local clergy and other “experts” will respond to questions from readers about morals, values and what it means to be human. Please email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.