SCORES OF STORIES abound, in the most unlikely places, of people facing death alone as the scourge of a pandemic continues to ravage disparate regions. Frontline doctors and nurses in China and the United States, priests and religious nuns in Italy and Spain, mothers and fathers in Mexico and Colombia, academics and researchers in India and the Philippines, and elsewhere who have fallen victim to the virus have all had to face their last hours alone – as the fear of contagion and the strict quarantine rules have made it nearly impossible for loved ones to assist their dying.
Passion, Death and Resurrection
It is perhaps no coincidence that this phenomenon of staring death unassisted is taking place in the season of Lent when Christians all over the world commemorate the passion, death and resurrection of the God-become-Man. (In fact, the word quarantine derives from the Latin and Italian words – quadragina and quarantina—and in Spanish “Cuaresma” that denotes the forty days of Lent.)
Betrayed, forsaken, nearly alone while crucified between two thieves, He went through his passion, confronted death as he cried out loud “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me!”; and, with greater anguish, “My God, why have you abandoned me?”.
Some of us may recall sitting by the bedside of someone in the last throes of life, reflecting perhaps how death can be the moment when one feels most alone. Yet, I recall the solace in my mother’s face when my brothers and sisters took turns holding her hand, stroking her hair, clasping her lovely face and frame, cuddling her into our arms as mute and nearly-futile filial signs of farewell. Being there for one who is near and dear at the last moments seems so comforting for the person departing but more so for those left behind.
What a difference this period of near total lockdown means, when even the last rites become almost impossible to observe. To be alone completely, in the moment when one needs others most and for those left behind made desolate and despondent in their feeling of helplessness and anguish!
It is difficult to imagine any form of consolation sufficient in situations such as these. Yet, there perhaps may be another dimension to this unimaginable tragedy if one cares to ponder and meditate.
For those who have faith, death is not the end of life but marks the beginning of another journey. It is when life is transformed, and all of life’s sorrows are converted into a passage into another realm.
“He is risen!” The heart of the Christian message lies in the fact that He conquered death; it is founded in the unflinching hope that “He is risen from the dead!”
He pitched His tent among us, lived as we did and gave us hope – that all of life which is a gift is entrusted back to Him who is the Giver of life. And, death, if one truly believes is the threshold of one’s journey home.
I realize that when one loses a loved one such thoughts are rarely relevant for grief is great and almost always nearly overwhelms us. But, it is good to think about life and death in this period of quarantine in this Lenten season – who would have thought that the coronavirus quarantine would take place in such an ironic convergence.
It was while I was walking alone back and forth on the rooftop of our apartment building that these thoughts came rushing to me begging that I put them down in writing. And, thus I did thinking perhaps that if it could provide even a measure of modest solace to someone out there witnessing a tragedy unfolding right before one’s eyes – then, it would have been worth the effort.
And, so to someone out there; though you may be one or just a few, I believe that it is the least one can do: proclaim the Easter message that there is hope, and that even in death there is life!