The Stain of Covid

The Stain of Covid
Sunset from Lahaina, Maui. Each sunset is an invitation to an opportunity of renewal -a time of mending the pieces together toward a rebirthing. Happy soon to be New Year!

I send this reflection as we close out 2022.

The Stain of Covid – Each person in our world is left with a stain from Covid-19. I choose the word stain because it cannot be removed – maybe with some serious soaking in bleach or oxy clean some might clear up but overall stains leave a mark deep in the threads of fabric.

In my childhood, I remember how every summer I had a new pair of white shorts. By the end of summer, I would always have a stain of chocolate ice cream that symbolized for me my summer memories.  Covid leaves a stain much more intensely and sometimes it is invisible to the everyday person but is deep in a persons' heart. The stain can look like grief of the old self due to long covid, loss of a job or home, or a loved one who died. This stain is a mark of how our lives, families, and community have been changed since March 2020. It is a stain that will never be absent from my vision as it has impacted my life personally and professionally.

Covid is forever a mark in history, a step-in time, all while we are still remaining in the desert not sure how it will end.  Still, I process how many families and patients I sat with through the intense moments of the pandemic. I would pick up the phone and call the families of seriously ill covid patients. I would gingerly introduce myself to them being sensitive to the unusual circumstances that Covid brings along. Calling families on the phone was a new way of serving the spiritual needs of patients and families. Spiritual Care has always been a bedside service as families were typically present in the room.  Instantly with the onset of Covid the way of spiritual care changed to where no visitors were allowed in the hospital.  I recall the first day I dove in to the new process of picking up the phone to call a patient's loved ones.  There the journey began of a new style of hospital spiritual care - via phone.  It went something like this - "Hi my name is Amy, I work with the care team of your loved one. My focus is on spiritual care needs of the patients and families.  While the doctors and nurses are focused on care for your loved one, I am here for you. How is it going as you are coping at home?" .... "In earlier days I would be meeting you at the bedside. Due to these different times, I make phone calls to meet our families."

And so, the visit would progress with most families taking a pause and shedding a tear, or their throat would crack. It always ended with thank you for thinking of me. They would request a prayer outside the room or a symbol of their faith tradition to be present in the room of their loved one.

Reflecting on the intensity of these cases I am still overwhelmed with grief at how some families never got to be in the room to say good-bye. I continue to wonder how this will affect their grief journey in the long term.

In conversation with someone the other day I heard the echo of my heart – how do we honor and respect those who died and all that was lost during the heavy days of Covid?  How do we show that in how we live our lives now? Some institutions require masks, some encourage them and some do not even blink an eye. The headlines announce cases are rising. Do we hear the numbers or maybe we are numb to them. All while we remember the victims of Covid. Aren't we all in a way?

This stain is deeper than something we can see on our clothes or skin. It is on our heart through the grief we experience. How do we process the grief of someone who died of covid, grief of not being able to see a family member for the last time because of distance, grief of not being able to celebrate with family at the holidays, grief over losing a job, grief over losing someone to mental distress, or grief over the change covid has made in our lives personally?

So how do we move forward with this stain – honoring it while at the same time living into the future?

1. Hold a ritual or ceremony to lift up what the stain is for our self.

2. Write the stain down on a piece of paper, burn it in a fire or tuck it way in a time capsule as a reminder into the future. Some folks place their thoughts along with masks into a time capsule as a mark into the future.  

3. Intentionally take a walk of releasing whatever is on the heart.  A spiritual tool I find helpful when I need to let go of something is the Labyrinth.  First, you Remember then Release, then Receive, and finally Return.  The more I walk my labyrinth the more I realize how much in my spirit there is to release – to shed what has been building up over the pandemic. No doubt we all hold many layers that could use a chance to be free.  

Personally, I keep returning to gratitude as I travel through this long covid journey. When the moments of despair creep in I release them and attempt to reframe it to see the blessings hidden under what looks like a hopeless mess. When I weed through the grief of memories of how I capably functioned in the world prior to catching Covid I reset myself to sit waiting for the next turn in the labyrinth. As my Spiritual Director mirrored for me - I am sitting with an invitation.

What invitation awaits you at this time as we end 2022 and begin anew in 2023?