The call came early, around 7:00 AM. My sister-in-law, my sister-in-love, Gwen, had been found dead in her house the night before. What? I had no words. I barely had breath. The rhythm of the world skipped a beat. The entire planet shifted slightly off its axis. Creation was out of joint.
We do not know if her death was related to covid-19. More questions than answers reminded me of how little we know about the mystery of life and death. I made the necessary telephone calls. Then, I did what scholars do: study the thing. I reached for faith, philosophy, and physics in a vain attempt to wrap my puny human mind around death.
Faith says death is a release from the troubles of this world. The teacher in Ecclesiastes teaches there is a time for every purpose under heaven: “A time to be born, And a time to die; . . .A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance;” ( Ecclesiastes 3). The teacher also tells us: “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth: . . . .The end of a thing is better than its beginning:” ( Ecclesiastes 7).
Faith believes in life after death. The writer of Genesis writes of the dead being gathered to their people. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. (Hebrew 12:1) Faith says the dead still live in another place.
Philosophy tells us not to fear death. “Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?” ( Epicurus)
In physics, the law of thermodynamics says that energy can neither be created not destroyed, that the energy which animates us was not born when we were born and does not die when we die. We are more than our mortal physical bodies.
However, Gwen, my sister-in-love, my friend, is gone from us. Because of this pandemic, her family will have to wait to come together to celebrate her life and to mourn her passing. Our family is not the only family suffering grief during this pandemic from a death that is not necessarily caused by the virus. We still have to sit distant from each other. And wait.
This pandemic will pass. Life will go on. We will welcome beautiful children who will be born. There will be other deaths to grieve, including our own.
However, today, at this moment, while we understand we have no power over death, when an unseen enemy has forced us to shelter in place, we sit still with our grief. We do not deny it or run from it or try to hide from our pain. We wait until compassion comes to dry our tears and beckon us back to hope and to the sustenance and joy of life on this earth.