Covid Grief Ritual

Rev. Kate Landis created this powerful ritual by gleaning Covid-related news from trusted sites* and then by surveying her congregation, family, church staff, and friends for real-life examples of how Covid has impacted their lives.

How the ritual unfolds: One reader says "January" and reads the regular type for the month, followed by another reader who offers the italicized section. After both sections are read, a musician sings the first half of "Comfort Me" (#1002 in Singing the Journey, by Mimi Bornstein).

Move to the next month and repeat, singing the second half of "Comfort Me." After all the months have been shared have the congregation sings "Comfort Me" all the way through.

January 2020, in our world: On New Year’s Eve we celebrated with fireworks, food, and friends. It was the start of a new year—a better year, we hoped—an election year. The president was impeached, the government shut down. We tried to read the Mueller report. Unimaginably strong hurricanes devastated already impoverished places.

The back of a person as they regard a wall, lit by a stark fluorescent light, on which many medical face masks are hung.

On New Year’s Eve 2020 a few people in Wuhan, China were ill with a SARS-like virus. A few days later the virus made international news but it seemed confined to a small region far away, and word was that it was transmitted from bats to humans, not person-to-person.

By the end of January, the coronavirus was in Washington state as well as Thailand, Japan, South Korea. Then nineteen countries had cases. The Center for Disease Control was deployed. Seventeen people were dead in China and human-to-human transmission was confirmed. We learned that we could spread the mysterious disease without having symptoms.

January, in our lives: I’m an ER nurse living in the basement of my house, isolated from my partner and children, out of fear I will bring the mysterious virus home. My kids keep knocking on the basement door and crying because they don’t understand why I won’t come out and comfort them.

Soloist sings first half of "Comfort Me."

February 2020, in our world: Dr. Li Wenliang, the first doctor in China to raise alarms about the virus, and be censored by the government, dies of Covid. On Valentines Day Egypt announced an outbreak, signaling that Covid had reached the briefly-spared continent of Africa. Italy becomes the most impacted area outside of China and the US stock market crashes. Then the virus was reported in Brazil, the first case in South America. On Feb 29th the first US citizen dies: a man in his 50s in the Seattle area.

February, in our lives: I am afraid and exhausted from the constant fear. I don’t know who to trust for information about the virus. If I stay home from work I will not be able to pay my rent and I’ll be evicted. How can I isolate? I am coughing a lot and so tired, but I’m undocumentedis it safe to seek medical care?

Congregation sings second half of "Comfort Me."

March 2020 in our world: a recently-elected MP dies in Iran, and all of Italy enters lockdown. The WHO announces that more than four thousand people have died in 114 countries. Covid is declared a pandemic. The NBA and NHL suspend play. A church choir in Washington meets for rehearsal and 80% become infected, leading to new discoveries about the danger of airborne transmission. Gatherings of over ten people are discouraged in the US. The European Union and Canada closed their borders to non-essential travelers. Japan announced that the Summer Olympics would be postponed at least a year.

The 100th American dies from Covid. Personal Protective Equipment is in short supply at medical facilities and caregivers are forced to reuse masks. With equipment like respirators in short supply doctors and nurses are forced to create protocols for rationing care: who will get life-saving treatment? At the end of March, the Federal government releases the CARES Act, providing economic relief to individuals and expansions in unemployment benefits. US cases surpass 100,000 and our country becomes the global Covid epicenter. 10 million people lose their jobs in March.

March in our lives: A neighbor who works for a big grocery chain posts a request on Next Door.com for low-cost masks; she and her co-workers are suddenly essential workers but still make minimum wage. Her message goes viral, causing thousands of masks to be donated to workers across the country. For two weeks the grocery store gives a $2-an-hour “hazard pay” bonus but it ends long before the virus.

My grandmother died but we couldn’t have a funeral. Alone, I sorted through her life-time of belongings, weeping.

Schools have moved to online learning but we only have one computer. I can’t figure out the programs the kids are supposed to use, they miss their friends, and we are mad and scared all the time.

Soloist sings first half of "Comfort Me."

April 2020 in our world: a Gallup poll found that 1 in 7 Americans would not seek medical care for Covid symptoms because of the cost of medical treatment. 5.4 million lost health insurance between February and May due to job loss. 20,000 people have died in the US and the CDC recommends everyone wear a mask in public. Demonstrators protesting state shut-downs in Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota were praised by President Trump via Twitter. Prom was canceled for millions of teenagers.

April in our lives: A valued teacher died a preventable death after avoiding the Emergency Room because of Covid. Non-emergency surgeries are canceled so my child is in pain, and will wait months for relief.

Congregation sings second half of "Comfort Me."

May 2020 in our world: the CDC reports on cases of Multisystem Inflammatory syndrome in children with Covid, dashing hopes that the virus would not greatly impact the young. The US death toll passes 100,000. Universities debate canceling in-person classes for the fall.

May in our lives: I comforted a doctor hysterically crying after the death of a covid patient, young, who didn’t speak any English, and died without family or friends by his side. “We can’t do anything, we are helpless,” he cried.

Soloist sings first half of "Comfort Me."

June 2020 in our world: 200,000 people in the US have Covid. 10 million in the world have been infected; five hundred thousand have died. Denial and misinformation run rampant. Depression soars in children and youth.

June in our lives: In a convenience store, I was openly mocked for wearing a mask. Families are divided by widely-believed claims that the virus is a hoax or is no worse than the flu. My brother’s wedding was canceled as were plans to surprise my parents with a 50th anniversary party. Our summer vacation was canceled, summer camp was canceled.

For years I have looked forward to watching my child graduate but the ceremony was replaced by a drive-through parade of cars: total chaos, but at least he got a final glimpse of their teachers and coach.

Congregation sings second half of "Comfort Me."

July 2020 in our world: the states with the biggest spikes in cases are the same as states with the lowest number of insured.

July in our lives: My family’s business, a popular local restaurant, closed for good.

A family member struggling with life-long mental illness went off his medications because he lost his insurance. After acting erratically at a grocery store, he was arrested and jailed.

I haven’t seen my grandchildren in five months, except over the computer. They are too little to even remember me now.

Soloist sings first half of "Comfort Me."

August 2020 in our world: half of hospitals in low-income areas are out of ICU beds, compared to just three percent of hospitals in wealthy areas.

August in our lives: My dad tested positive; he couldn’t breathe and had a high fever, but was sent home because the hospital was full.

I am so tired of saying “no” to my children: no playing with friends, no camp, no birthday party, no swimming pool. I am the big meanie, the wicked witch, the bringer of disappointment.

Congregation sings second half of "Comfort Me."

September 2020 in our world: Labor Day festivities and the start of school leads to a surge. Global Covid deaths pass 1 million, more than forty percent of which are in the US, Brazil, and India. Parents and guardians try to figure out how to supervise online school while earning a living and keeping everyone healthy.

September in our lives: I couldn’t be with my wife as she gave birth. She was alone except for the kind eyes of nurses who were otherwise fully shrouded in medical protection. Our baby is healthy and beautiful but has not met any of our family or friends. Her grandparents have not held her, to them she is real only on a computer screen.

My first-grader is struggling with school onlineit’s impossible to sit still for so long. And she cries because she misses her friends.

I attended my first funeral via Zoom and felt devastated by my grief, fear, and loneliness.

Soloist sings first half of "Comfort Me."

October 2020 in our world: The U.S. President and First Lady test positive. There are two hundred and twenty thousand deaths in the US, and 1.1 million worldwide. The US has the most deaths in the world. Researchers find that black and Hispanic/Latinx people are disproportionately represented in COVID deaths, with 24% of US deaths being Latinx or Hispanic people and 18% being Black people. The scourge of racism decimates the young and old.

October in our lives: Halloween festivities were canceled. Children didn’t go door to door to be oohed and aahed over.

I can’t visit my husband in his skilled care facility and over the phone I hear his memory declining. He is sad and alone. I am sad and alone.

Congregation sings second half of "Comfort Me."

November 2020 in our world: One hundred thousand cases are announced on a single day in the US. Fatalities are rampant on Native American reservations, where health care has been underfunded by the Federal government for generations. Navajo families describe losing both parents and grandparents in a few weeks.

November in our lives: I have a job that requires face-to-face interaction. I’m laid off and my unemployment has run out. I was saving to buy a home but now that money is spent on rent. I’m moving back to my parents' home in middle age.

We had Thanksgiving with just the people we live with. Cold weather ended any hopes of having a safer, outdoor gathering with friends.

I am single and haven’t seen my family in nine months. I haven’t seen anyone in person in six months. No hugs, no hand holding mine, just me. I couldn’t visit my mom when she was diagnosed with cancer or during chemo, when she felt awful and needed hugs and distraction.

Soloist sings first half of "Comfort Me."

December 2020 in our world: In LA County, two people an hour are dying of Covid. Christmas festivities are canceled. Two types of vaccinations are approved in the US and distribution begins to health care workers, and then residents in assisted living facilities, the majority of whom are white. While one in five people who are incarcerated have Covid, and they are the most likely to die from the virus, they are not prioritized in the initial distribution in forty-four states,. The majority of people who are incarcerated are Black or people of color.

December in our lives: The Sixth Grade Holiday Play, so anticipated by my child, was canceled. I celebrated my first Hannukah since my wife’s death in sad solitude.

I am trying to celebratethere is a vaccine!but I still feel afraid and so sad. After the past twelve months of death and anxiety, I can’t seem to remember how to relax and celebrate.

I’m grateful for Holiday traditions to ground me: decorate the tree, sing the carols. Despite everything I am feeling the tiniest sliver of hope.

Congregation sings "Comfort Me" all the way through.

*Rev. Kate used, as sources, the World Health Organization, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, and the New York Times.

About the Author

Kate Landis

The Rev. Kate Landis is interim minister at UU Church of Akron, Ohio, having formerly served Shoreline UU Church in Shoreline, Washington.

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