Even if the pandemic wanes, give yourself room to mourn

It goes without saying – although I really don’t hear anyone saying it – that the long-term collective effect of COVID-19 and its associated ailments on mental health is unfathomable. And when something is unfathomable, it’s tempting to put it out of your mind (an ironic phrase in this case).

We are well aware of the priceless toll he has taken on health care workers and families. We’re also well aware of the downsides that come with it – supply shortages, hoarding behaviors, failing or struggling businesses with curbside pickups, free contactless deliveries, and more.

We wonder aloud about the impact this has on children’s education and mental health. And we worry whether those things that have always connected us within communities — places of worship, affinity groups, civic engagements — will ever be more than hybrid events in the future.

We have made the most of what is. At the height of the pandemic, we organized small “groups” of people who would not make us sick. We wore smart masks. We had Zoom reading groups, Zoom business meetings, Zoom cocktails. And honestly, even though people put it down, we would have been lost if not for the video platforms that connected us.

Robert Browning wrote, “God is in his [sic] heaven, all is well in the world. But the couplet should not be taken literally; the whole poem is about infidelity and murder. Browning quips.

So, similarly, we shouldn’t take at face value that “COVID wanes, normality wins.”

I’m not at all sure we’ve taken a long view of how the ongoing trauma of the past few years has imprinted itself on our subconscious. We have been changed, collectively changed, in ways we cannot imagine. A slight miasma of sadness hovers over much of what we do. And the resigned shrug, “Well then, COVID…” needs no further explanation.

The feeling of loneliness and loss, things we don’t want to feel, things we try to hide. And there are a million ways to distract yourself from loneliness and loss, many of which are unhealthy and none of which truly solves the existential pain we so fiercely seek to deny. And maybe that’s because what we really need is so hard to find: words to lament, words of consolation.

A friend of mine has been working on a new resource, “All Creation Sings,” in the denomination in which I serve. “All Creation Sings” is a collection of liturgies, prayers and hymns, and like most hymns, the songs themselves are divided into thematic sections: healing and wholeness, justice and peace, etc. But unique to this resource is a section for lamentations.

The need for songs of lamentation is ancient. We see lamentations in works as ancient as the Epic of Gilgamesh, in Greek tragedy, in the Hebrew psalms and lamentations, to name a few. But while the bright, joyful people of the 20th century fed the relentless promises of self-help movements, we neglected or minimized our need to lament.

We certainly saw this need in the aftermath of 9/11 when churches, including the one I served, opened doors and held impromptu services. We saw it after the Virginia Tech shootings, the Sandy Hook murders, and the Emanuel AME and Tree of Life synagogue massacres. We see it now in services to the Ukrainian people.

But if we need consolation, we must first mourn. Writer Jeannette M. Lindholm’s powerful lines don’t sweep away the pain as if the pain were so many confetti thrown around. She writes:

Despair, so deep it bears no name and crippling sorrows

Cannot revoke Love’s faithful claim to dwell in our death.

Solace doesn’t come cheap, and unlike empty little words of comfort, it’s hard to come by.

But consolation begins in the integrity of honest tears, unvarnished anguish, and a longing that hope will remain.

Jo Page is a Lutheran writer and pastor. His email is [email protected]; his website is at www.jograepage.com.

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