Loss Made Visible

Here in Alberta, things are looking a little different than they have been of late. On July 1, we entered into Stage 3 of the province’s re-opening plan from the COVID-19 pandemic, which means essentially no health restrictions. Albertans can gather in their homes or in their yards, as many people as you feel comfortable with. Restaurants and bars are open. Masks are worn if desired, but are not required.

This also means that churches are open to full capacity – no distancing required, no masks needed to muffle singing. Sunday morning was amazing. I got emotional, greeting our 9:00 service – it was so good to see people there. People were laughing and smiling, so excited to be back together, worshiping our Lord. Things still look a bit different – not everyone feels comfortable to return to services, some are wearing masks, some are not ready for a handshake or a hug. And that’s alright.

I talked to a number of people, some of whom I haven’t seen or talked to in months. While I’m connected to some on social media, not everyone, so it seems crazy that there’s almost a year and a half of life to catch up on. I heard again and again, “It’s so good to be back to normal!”

And that’s where I got a little stuck. Because, you see, things aren’t normal. I found myself wanting to say, “But wait – things aren’t normal. The world is so different now than the last time I seen you, because my mom died.” I’ve had this feeling before, and talking with family members, I’m not the only one. This strange desire to tell people – to tell everyone – that the world is different now. That something awful has happened. That nothing will ever be normal again.

It’s a weird sensation – makes me feel a little dark and morbid sometimes, awkwardly self-centered at other times, having this desire that the people around me know what happened and what I’m experiencing.

I’ve been reading on grief recently, and the book that I’m in the middle of now is called Finding Meaning by David Kessler. The second chapter is titled “Grief Must Be Witnessed” and it opens with these words: “Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed.” I read those words, grabbed my pencil and wrote in the margin, “That means I’m normal!”

Kessler goes on to tell about a northern indigenous village in Australia that he had heard of: “…the night someone dies, everyone in the village moves a piece or furniture or something in their yard. The next day, when the bereaved family wakes up and looks outside, they see that everything has changed since their loved one died – not just for them but for everyone. That’s how these communities witness, and mirror, grief. They are showing in a tangible way that someone’s death matters. The loss is made visible.”

Isn’t that one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever heard? I think it’s absolutely amazing. When someone you love dies, your whole world changes. It really seems like everything and everyone should stop for a bit and acknowledge that, but it doesn’t. Everything keeps on going around you, even as your world has come to a screeching halt.

As a global community, we have been living through and are beginning to come out of this pandemic. The world changed for everyone – every person on this planet. We have that in common. As we begin to gather again, how will we mark that the world has changed? How will we acknowledge that?

Things will never go back to “normal”, not for me, nor for anyone. I hope we can have conversations where we can share how our worlds have changed, how things are no longer the same. I hope that we are able to stop, ask what might be hard questions, and then mark those changes with those around us.

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