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Don’t take life for granted, COVID-19 is no respecter of persons

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…” — Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4-5
The year 2020 was unlike others, and, thus far, January has fallen in line with the months that preceded it. The number of COVID-19 cases increased dramatically this month as did the death toll. We all know someone who has had COVID-19 as well as someone who has died because of it. As of Monday, 112 Carter Countians had died of the coronavirus, and there are some now in the hospital fighting the cursed disease. It has taken an incalculable death toll.
In time we must honor the lives lost and find comfort through collective mourning.
When we read local and regional obituaries, they often do not say that the person died of COVID-19. But, family members and friends know, and often many in the community. They are not simply names. They were us. Some were leaders in the community, others were elderly residents in our nursing homes, some were people we attended church with. They were our neighbors and friends. Someone knew them. Someone loved them.
COVID-19 has altered the way we live: wearing face coverings in public, standing 6 feet apart in line at the store. But experts say the virus has also brought dramatic change for a painful situation as old as humankind: dealing with the end of life.
Hospitals, funeral homes and palliative care facilities nationwide have made tough calls about visitations and mourning rituals, balancing the need to comfort the dying — and support the grieving — with the risk of spreading a potentially deadly contagion.
Some hospitals closed their doors to all visitors while others enacted tough new social distancing restrictions, limiting sickbed visitors to one or two people, even if the patient wasn’t infected with COVID-19. A quick online search for guidelines turns up nearly as many rules as there are hospitals.
The sudden changes, however, meant doctors, nurses and other caregivers instantly became intermediaries, relaying information — and sometimes emotional, heart-wrenching farewell messages — between loved ones and a terminally ill patient. It also pushed technology to the forefront: sterile, remote phone calls, text messages or Zoom group chats have become substitutes for a loving touch, a laugh, a hug or a kiss that could transmit the virus.
Social distancing has similarly disrupted funerals, an important social ritual to give closure to the living as well as to honor the dead.
Gone, for now, are the days of mourners shoulder-to-shoulder in pews, singing hymns, holding hands in prayer or weeping in one another’s arms. Funeral directors and even some churches are restricting the number of people who can attend a memorial service; only a handful are allowed, and they’re kept at appropriate social distance.
Because the pandemic has cut in-person connections at the end of life, some of the bereaved feel “cheated” of the chance to say goodbye. They see themselves and the deceased as “forgotten victims” of COVID-19.
Yes, COVID-19 has turned norms upside-down and has changed the meaning of much that we once took for granted. And, there may be no return to the old normal. Life as we knew it may be gone for all of us.
Although, it was meant for a laugh, someone wrote: “I never thought I’d see the day I would walk into a bank with a mask on and ask for money.”
This is just an unimaginable example of how COVID-19 has changed our world.
In recent days, the COVID vaccine has been distributed. Some counties have it to distribute, others don’t. Many have waited in line for up to three hours to receive the vaccine. Although there is a vaccine available, it is not a time to quit wearing masks, social distancing, and practicing hand hygiene. It will be sometime before the entire community will get the vaccine.
We wish that things were different. We wish that we could have services in our places of worship. We wish we could enjoy dinners with extended family. We wish we could visit family and friends in the nursing home…even visit friends in the hospital. We wish we could go to the Wal-Mart or the grocery store without fear of catching the virus.
But until then, we must love the hard way. Love that persists when life is anything but easy. And, never ever take life for granted.