Grief in a Willow Casket
Recently an article appeared in the Denver Post Life and Culture Section: Reflecting on Grief: Boulder team weaves a casket for mixed-media exhibit aimed at helping the community cope. I read it, re-read it, and read it again.
Was it only seven months ago that we were warned to take cover, shelter in place, wash our hands over and over and over and over, not to touch our faces or door handles or boxes of blueberries? Warned to wipe down food from the grocery store with Clorox wipes that were no longer available? Created survival plans for life without TP? When we had not even begun to contemplate a world without restaurants or schools or churches? Or learned to fear, not just strangers but our own loved ones?
We converted Bible Study and Book Groups to Zoom. Sunday Services halted and then began to meet on-line. Creative attempts at music and lay participation for Sunday services appeared and cautiously congregations began to meet with limited numbers in parking lots. A few tried drive-by communions and I joined a Z00M Eucharist group.
I began to measure the future by how long it takes to complete a 1,000-piece jig saw puzzle. About the time I completed my third puzzle we were asking more important questions. It was beginning to look like the future would no longer be measured by numbers of puzzles completed. We were going to look at a radically different future. What is going to happen to church? Will it survive? What will it look like?
More thoughtful long-range questions were emerging. What is church? What is Eucharist? What is the future of our collective spiritual expression going to look like?
I live in a Senior Community where we were (and still are) asked to stay in our apartments. All social activities came to a screeching halt. Although I do not live alone, I began to feel changes that isolation was making in me. I wondered what isolation was doing to those who were truly alone all day and all night, day after day after night.
Feeling called to visit a neighbor one evening. I found a woman in despair. Her husband’s recent death compounded by no way to celebrate his life publicly or with family had that day just lost a daughter to cancer. A husband alone in the mail room carrying his wife’s dress to the funeral home. “Do you think this will be okay?” My husband conferring virtually on his iPhone with the son of a friend. The son anxious to accommodate his dad’s desire to be laid to rest in his Army Dress Blue Uniform. My husband pleased to be able to make certain that uniform was ready for final inspection.
More and more I want to know: “How are we going to grieve?” We are not just missing memorial services but other life defining collective moments: graduations; weddings, religious milestones. Grandparents with empty arms, longing to look into the mysterious eyes of a newborn baby. Will he be walking and talking before they meet? Missing the comfort of having a trusted love one at one’s side at crucial times. Carefree browsing at a farmer’s market. Secure employment. School. Hugging. Touching. Laughing. Cheering. Singing together. Smiles. Trusting.
How are we going to grieve missing normal everyday experiences? How, I wondered, would summer be summer without baseball; or fall be fall without football. How, will the seasons progress for us city dwellers without the traditional markers of our seasons. What will we do with what we have learned this year? Will we be creative with what we have learned? Shortly before the pandemic two women in Boulder saw a community need to find ways to process grief and help a community cope with death and dying. They began weaving a casket from willow branches for a mixed media art exhibit. Visitors are invited to write about their feelings, folding the papers origami-style, to reshape their grief, and placing them in the casket which would be buried later.
For the Celts, the seasons were marked by what is natural and Divinely inspired. The rhythm of nature lives on. Perhaps, we can relearn the rhythm of the Celtic year: resting and renewing, sowing and planting, harvesting and rejoicing and then rest and renewal again. Since the pandemic began many of us are dealing with devastating losses, obvious and hidden. We now have the promise of a vaccine; hope of a return to “normal”; a new “shot in the arm”. Grief does not go away so easily. It will take creativity, prayer and compassion to heal that pain.
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