Today the government declared ten days of mourning, starting today with a minute’s silence at 12:00 p.m. It is the first time since Spain became a democracy that such a long period of mourning has been declared. And so it should be. There is still come conjecture about the figures, but today the Ministry of Health published that there are 236,739 active cases of COVID-19 in Spain and 27,118 deaths. Mourning did not begin today.
Personally, I haven’t lost any family members. Friends, yes. I feel a tremendous sadness for Spain, for each family and each person who is suffering under the weight of loss at this time. I offer my sincere condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one or a friend.
Mourning is necessary, and it is a process that is different for everyone. There are different phases which do not necessarily follow on tidily one after another. You might go from one phase to the next and then back again. Time, again, varies from person to person. There is no set time, everyone copes with mourning differently. We need time to recover and come to terms with what has happened, to come to the stage of acceptance where we can fondly remember the person and feel at peace.
With the coronavirus deaths there is an additional factor which makes it hard to experience a “healthy” process of mourning, and it is not being able to say goodbye to the person. Fear of contagion and the health regulations have meant that the whole process has become sterile and dehumanised. In Spain, there is a whole ritual that surrounds the death of a loved one. We go to the funeral home, we embrace family and friends, we express our condolences, we remember the person who has died, sometimes we might laugh together as we fondly remember anecdotes about them. All of this helps us to assimilate the loss.
But during the virus, thousands of people have not been able to accompany their loved ones in their final hours on this Earth, they have not been able to say their last goodbyes; in many cases, there has been no funeral or burial. Some people have not even received the ashes yet. Some friends of ours, whose father died in another province, had to travel 250 km to watch his coffin being incinerated and then turn around to drive back. They were not even allowed to scatter his ashes in the river as he would have liked.
There are also other types of mourning. Mourning for broken dreams. Cancelled plans. I had two trips booked for this time that I had to cancel, and many other things that I had to erase from my calendar. In my case, it was disappointing, but not tragic. I know I will be able to pick up those plans in due time. But there are millions of people who have lost their jobs and don’t know what the future holds; some don’t even know where their next meal is coming from. There are long queues at the food banks with people who have never been in this situation before. Demand has triplicated in a short period of time. Loss of hope is like an anticipated mourning, grief that is difficult to overcome.
As believers, what can we say in this crisis?
We know that we have a future hope, eternal life. It is a promise from God that everything is not over at the end of this life and when we face death, this promise becomes very real, as many of the people who have shared their experiences on this blog have described.
But is there hope when we are faced with unemployment, social, political and economical instability, the loss of freedoms and the uncertainty of what the future will look like?
Of all the religions in the world, Christianity is the only one where God has become like his creation. Jesus came to Earth and lived in a time of upheaval, political conflict and social difficulties. He became a man and understands us as one who has experienced life with its joys and its injustices, just like us. And he overcame death with his resurrection. Those of us who know him, know that he is merciful, compassionate and walks beside us in the difficulties and in the celebrations. He is not a concept, he’s a person. He promises to be with us and give us his peace which passes all understanding. It is not a vain hope. Often we cannot understand the circumstances of life, the things we have to go through, but we do know that we can trust in him. At a time when fake news abounds, when it’s hard to know what to believe, it is a great comfort to be able to lean on Jesus who is the Truth. He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He does not change. His character is trustworthy. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t seek his own benefit but rather gives himself to others.
These are times when, as believers, more than ever we must allow the life of Jesus to flow freely through us as we extend our hands towards others, to show mercy, compassion, love and practical help in every way we can. Over these past months, churches, places of worship, have been closed, but as a friend of mine likes to say, the Holy Spirit is not on lockdown. God is more active than ever. What we always say has become even more real: the church is not a building, the church is us, the believers, and wherever we go we carry the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, who so desires to bring that comfort that no human being can possibly give.
At the beginning of this month of May, a song called The Blessing was composed in the United States based on Aaron’s Biblical blessing in the Bible, and it has gone viral with multiple versions in several languages flooding the Internet. On this day of mourning, I’d like to share the version below, The UK Blessing, recorded during lockdown by people from 65 different churches in the United Kingdom.
‘The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face toward you,Numbers 6:24-26 (New International Version)
And give you peace.’
As the song says, God is for you.