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“To everything (turn, turn, turn), There is a season (turn, turn, turn), And a time to every purpose, under heaven.” The folk-rock group The Byrds took this 2,000-year-old text from the Book of Ecclesiastes and turned it into a number one hit. The poetic lyrics illustrate that there is a time and purpose for every predictable life experience. However, for the people dealing with the loss of a loved one during this time of COVID-19, grieving from a distance was not a life experience anyone could have predicted.
“Usually, when someone passes there are hugs and crying on people’s shoulders. There’s the family grieving together. We’ve had none of that,” says Jeffersonville, Indiana, resident Ronald Allman of his mother Anne Marie Allman’s passing. These days the traditional steps taken to mourn a loved one have been altered. Due to social distancing and protective health measures being taken, relatives no longer show up at a doorstep laden with comforting casseroles or stacks of pies — or the consoling hugs that go along with them. “Up until this month, if someone died you were able to grieve in a predictable way,” Ron says. That has made this situation impossible with Ron’s parents and siblings spread across the country.
Finding ways to maintain some level of traditional connection with his family, Ron, his three siblings, and his father have been using the technologies available to them to stay in touch. It does help, but Ron says, “It’s still not the same thing as looking into the person’s eyes.” That element of togetherness is missing as soon as the phone is turned off. Looking to the future, the family continues to discuss funeral and burial plans, but even those remain uncertain until air travel is a safe option and hotels reopen.
Louisvillian Taylor Buckner says when it came to her grandmother Edith Johnson’s local funeral, finding that sense of closure was slightly easier. She and her immediate family were allowed to have a more traditional, although smaller, farewell service. Funeral homes have had to place restrictions on how many family members are allowed to attend services, and she was one of 10 family members in attendance at the visitation. “I feel a sense of closure because I was able to be at the funeral home, but it was hard not having as many people as we wanted to be there,” Taylor says.
Similar to Ron and his family, Taylor and her immediate family have also talked about celebrating their loved one’s life in a way that brings the larger family unit together once it’s deemed safe to do so. “We’ve talked about having a remembrance dinner for people to come and go as they want,” Taylor says.
Saying our final goodbyes to those we love is never easy. Leaning on the shoulders of family, friends, and casserole makers has offered support during every season until this deeply life-altering one. Let’s hope that the turning of the next season brings families back together to a place of support and comfort.
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