Thursday, March 26, 2020

Mourning During COVID-19

I hope that this doesn’t sound cold or mean. My dad picked a good time to die. My brother and I flew to South Florida a few weeks ago to see him before he passed away. Then, my family and I drove to Pittsburgh for the funeral. We also held Shiva, the traditional seven-day period of mourning after the burial, at my parents’ Pittsburgh synagogue. Although some people greeted me by touching elbows at the funeral and at Shiva, this was still before social distancing started, and people came. Then, I returned to Northern Virginia, attended services at my synagogue and was able to host a Shiva one night at my home. That was Sunday, March 15th. That was also basically the last day I left the neighborhood. Oh, in case you're wondering, we were able to have a minyan at my home, so I didn't need to ask Larry David or Bill Buckner to join us.

In traditional Jewish culture, there is a 30-day period of mourning after burial called Sheloshim, which includes the first seven days of Shiva. Mourners can return to work, but there are some other restrictions that still apply. In normal times, I would go to synagogue daily for prayer including reciting the Mourners Kaddish with at least 9 other adults. (Again, needing a minyan.) Well, my synagogue and likely every other place of worship shut down because of the coronavirus. Enter the online service! I participated in an online service via Zoom with a Pittsburgh synagogue last week. It was weird, mostly because I didn't know anyone leading or participating in the service and since this was the first online service for everyone. Even though everyone’s in their own home, there’s still a community to this, so it was nice. Plus, this was the first time that Ziggy was able to see a service. (He has joined me on several work video calls too. Why should a laptop be on my lap when he could be there?)

My synagogue hosted a service on Wednesday, so I actually knew the rabbi and some of the people there. Then, I saw on Facebook that a friend of mine from college was hosting an online service. Oh, I should probably mention that this friend is now a rabbi in Denver. It has been really cool connecting with her again, and I enjoy her service and being a part of "my Denver community" from 1,700 miles away!

With schools closed and my office closed and my five-person family being in the same house together 24/7, there really hasn't been any time for grief or reflection. My rabbi gave me a few books about death and grieving, but they are sitting unopened next to my bed. I'm working from home now, but it's definitely not my normal schedule. There are several breaks during the day to be with the kids, so after they go to bed and the dishwasher, trash, laundry, and Ziggy's litter box are taken care of, I'm back on my computer doing work. If we were in our normal routine, I probably would think more about my dad during my commute to and from work. I'd definitely open the books.

Through all of this, the online services have given me a little bit of a routine at a time when there is no normal routine. It's comforting knowing that I have a set time each day to participate in this. Full disclosure: Although I generally wear a nice shirt, I often wear pajama pants during these services. I probably shouldn't share this. Oh well. So if the kids come bursting into the room during the service, I'll probably just sit there with my eyes closed and apologizing so that no one can see me wearing pajama pants.

Looking back at the last few weeks, I'm grateful that my dad died when he did. We knew that he didn't have much time left, and it was a blessing that we got to spend time with him and my mom before he passed away. I feel awful for families dealing with loved ones passing away now, particularly of those dying from the coronavirus. They aren't able to be in the same hospital rooms as their quarantined loved ones. Funerals are being delayed or done on a much smaller scale. I was able to spend time with family and friends in the immediacy of my dad's death. It definitely brought comfort. There's not that same type of comfort or closure for friends and family of loved ones passing away today.


Mom said...

You are absolutely right, Sean. You and your brother were able to fly down and spend some time with Dad. We were able to have a "normal" funeral and shiva. A rabbi was on the news tonight. All shivas are being done via zoom in south Florida.

Eric Freed said...

I'm praying for you and your family, Sean. I understand not being able to mourn a loved one in a "normal" way, with everything so outside our routines right now. Take the time you need. Loss is not something from which you need to move on. This is a part of your life story, a part of you. May the Lord be with you. Take care.

Kathy Orr said...

I’m so glad to have read this post and that you can attend services online. We do that too now too and often dress in a similar way and it is still comforting. We are glad that your entire family could be together to share good moments with your mom and dad before he passed. We send our condolences from Buckeye Country. Love to see your pics from tint to time, and are so happy our dear (only child) Lois has such a beautiful big family full of grand babies! God Bless you all with many fond Memories of your father.

Sean said...

Thank you so much for your messages, Eric and Kathy. I really appreciate it!