Holy Week and Death

What I thought was exhaustion and jet lag upon returning home from Thailand and Nepal quickly turned into fever, cough, malaise, and weakness. I spent three days in bed, emerging only for trips to bathroom and kitchen. The trips to the kitchen seemed grueling in my weakened and dizzy state; after getting something to drink and some other basic necessity, I’d collapse into a recliner to rest up for the trip back down the hallway and back to bed.

Most of the time, I slept.

Until I got sick, I had had two priorities for that time: to rush to my mother’s side and make up for the time together I’d missed while gone, and to ready our house for a visit from my daughter and her family. Neither was to be.

This was supposed to be an extra special time, something I’ve been eagerly anticipating. Last year, after Pascha, I had determined to make this Holy Week even more of a priority; I’d marked it off on my calendar so as not to inadvertently schedule anything else during that time. Among other things, I was looking forward to joining local parishes in an annual 15 mile Stations of the Cross walk on Good Friday.

As time went on, the significance of this year grew even more — three people I deeply love will be entering the Church during the Easter Vigil at the local Roman Catholic parish, the same one where my daughter and her family had entered the Church.

But my best laid plans were being upended. When it was growing very close to the time that my daughter and family were to begin traveling here, I was still very sick. We agreed that it would be best if they didn’t come. In the meantime, all my efforts were going towards recovering so that I would be well enough to visit my mother and not put her and her entire care home at serious risk.

I spent Palm Sunday alone at home… Not being at church was eerily reminiscent of 2020, during the COVID lockdowns.

On Monday of Holy Week, I was feeling much better and considered donning an N95 mask and visiting my mother. Her nurse, hearing me cough over the phone, urged me to stay home.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, the nurse suggested I come. I quickly got ready and was on my way out to the car when I got the phone call from one of my mother’s caregivers.

My mother was gone.

Somehow I managed to drive. I managed to try to make two phone calls while I was driving — using my silly little dumb phone and praying I wouldn’t crash. One person answered, and somehow I managed to deliver the sad news and drive at the same time and not run off the road and not crash into anyone.

I worked at a hospital in my early 20’s. I watched some people die. I saw dead bodies. Years later, I watched my brother die. More recently, I watched my father die.

But nothing, nothing on earth, could have ever prepared me for walking alone into my mother’s room and encountering her still warm but lifeless body.

I sat vigil at her bedside. I prayed. I did the typical thing we tend to do when our loved ones die and we feel compelled to speak to them as if they are still there. I searched for her Daily Light but both copies of her favorite devotional book had managed to disappear from her room in my absence. I prayed some more.

In between, I had an awful moment of collapsing on the floor in profound grief.

I made a few phone calls. I answered some. It is in moments like these, in the depths of pain and sorrow, when I am always so profoundly awestruck by those people in my life who somehow know how to love me well, who show me Jesus by allowing Him to shine through them. If I were to sum up my “testimony”, my faith journey thus far, it’s that — as I often say these days — “God wooed and pursued me”. And He often used people to do so. Some of those people were God’s hands and feet and voice yesterday, when I needed that tender loving comfort most of all.

My husband arrived just in time so that we could watch them take my mother’s body off to the mortuary.

I lost my beloved Opa shortly before Holy Week of 1977, and celebrating the Resurrection in the midst of grief seemed oh so profoundly glorious. In the years since, and especially now that I celebrate the liturgical calendar more deeply and fully, Holy Week has become much more significant and meaningful — and the Resurrection tremendously more triumphant and joy-filled.

There is no better time, it seems, to be so exhausted, so wracked with grief and loss, and so at the end of oneself than now, this very week.

Some thoughts while “sheltering at home”

I was wrong.

At first, I thought measures being taken against the spread of the Coronavirus were extremist and bizarre. Then I reviewed some of what I’d learned in a long ago Public Health class about the history of virus diseases and virology. I read some articles being written now by leading epidemiologists, consulted the WHO and CDC websites, and examined some of the resources being compiled by trusted friends in the medical field.

That’s when I had to reconsider things.

I’m the caretaker for my elderly, frail parents. I need to be at their home at least 3 times daily, making sure they get their medications and food. Needless to say, they are not leaving the house. We even cancelled respite care for this week; I decided that a “day off” from my duties is an unnecessary luxury for me and risk for my parents.

I understand that for many, the very idea of staying home and not going to work or socializing is simply too awful to contemplate. I get it. I was already feeling stir crazy before the “shelter in place” order was issued for my county and then my state. No one says this will be easy.

But the rest of this is for my professing Christian readers…

This is the season of Lent. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, this might be a good time to find out. It’s a penitential time leading up to Easter. Many of us use this season to pull away from life’s distractions and addictions in order to focus more on Christ, and especially on the meaning of His Crucifixion. It makes Easter all the more glorious.

We “give up” for Lent in order to gain more of Jesus, in order to experience Him more fully.

Some of my friends, now confined to their homes, have commented that this is the greatest Lent ever, and they are fully embracing this opportunity.

This is not an easy time, by any stretch of the imagination, and I am in no way minimizing the suffering of those who are sick, those who have lost loved ones, those who are without income, those facing the the very real possibility of losing their homes, etc. I’m talking to those of us who, like me, are as of yet unscathed and still can’t figure out why our government is taking such extreme measures.

Use this season. Allow God to use it. Be willing to sacrifice. And please, please stay away from people as much as possible, no matter how people-starved we all might be right now. Let me get personal. You may think you just have allergies, or it’s just a cold, or you may even think you are the healthiest person on the planet. But unless I invite you into my life and home as a necessary presence, or as a family member needing to shelter here, this is not a time for in-person socializing. This is not a time to “drop by”. Please don’t disregard the orders you are under where you live, or the advice of those who know a lot more about pandemics and epidemiology than any of us ever will.

I have two dear parents who need me to be healthy. My husband is in that over-65 vulnerable group. I have asthma too (which, thank God, rarely troubles me these days) and pleurisy-scarred lungs, and I’m not exactly youthful. Pray for my parents. Pray for us. Pray for the many who are like me and like my parents. Pray for the many younger people who, thinking this disease posed no threat to them, are now suffering and even dying.

Use this season and any extra time you may have to seek God’s Presence as never before. Regard this as a spiritual retreat. May this Lent be a time of personal renewal for all of us. May it be a time of breakthrough.

Adapted from something I posted on Facebook earlier today.

Sign of a loving heart

The true sign of a loving heart is that it does not give up even if treated as unworthy of any love in return. The sign of a loving heart is that it continues undaunted despite its expressions of love being ignored, rejected, resented, misunderstood, criticized, or maligned. No matter how love is perceived or received, it persists, not in weakness but in strength.

Love does not beg for scraps of affection, for morsels of approval, or for token acts of kindness in return. Love does not grovel, nor is it masochistic. Instead, love lifts up its head, squares its shoulders, and acts with dignity.

Love never fails.

The signs of a loving heart are patience, kindness — in other words, the virtues of Jesus, the embodiment of God’s love. The true sign of a loving heart is that it realizes it is incapable of such holy love, and thus it asks to be a conduit of our Savior’s love. We may fail and fall way short in our bumbling attempts to love well; we may love out of wrong motives; we may offend the very ones we are attempting to love; we may be tempted to give up and retreat to safety; we may find the task of loving our enemies to be a near impossibility; but Christ’s love does not and cannot fail.

A few thoughts on love

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 13


Love is patient… even when people and circumstances try my patience… even when I am frustrated and exhausted.

and kind… even when treated with unkindness, harshness, resentment, and disrespect, even when maligned, even when made the object of gossip and ridicule. Love is kind in the face of rejection. Love is even kind to those who act as my enemies.

love does not envy or boast… nor does it engage in one-upmanship. It doesn’t attempt to make others recognize my achievements and worth, or brag about myself. Love doesn’t try to convince anyone that I’m unique or special. Love doesn’t launch private PR campaigns on my behalf.

it is not arrogant or rude… no matter how arrogant or rude others might be.

It does not insist on its own way… instead, love lays my hopes, dreams, and desires — no matter how long held, beautiful, and even noble — at the feet of Jesus… no matter how grievously painful this laying down might be.

it is not irritable or resentful… especially when others openly express their irritation and resentment towards me.

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing… but quickly repents, even over the “little things”, and even if I believe my snarky response was more than deserved, extremely clever, and showed great personal strength. Love sets a different standard.

but rejoices with the truth… Love refuses to believe lies, whether they are about me, someone else — or most importantly — about God. Love doesn’t just reject lies about my worth or my identity in Christ, but celebrates the truth of God’s Word and rejoices in the indescribable, immeasurable love of God.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love isn’t gullible or masochistic. Love is the greatest force in the universe, and it is unquenchable, even in the face of suffering and evil.

Love never ends.

I cannot love this way without God’s help.

Updated to add something I was apparently trying to avoid:

love does not envy... love stops comparing, stops focusing on what I don’t have… love is grateful… love recognizes that even when others seem to have everything my heart longs for, this is not about me and does not diminish me in any way. Love rejoices with those who rejoice.