By Ann Vander Berg
More than two months ago, in mid-March, as I was walking along the front entrance of the hospital I noticed a patient sitting in a wheel chair by the large expansive windows. The patient’s husband was with her. On the other side of the window were their adult children and grandchildren. They held up posters, waved, broke out into big smiles while expressing both love and encouragement. One of their young grandchildren was in tears and I suppose it was because they wanted to be physically closer to their grandma and grandpa.
I do not know if the relationships were as I interpreted them to be. However, the physical barrier and their obvious caring for one another was real and in that moment I again felt such deep sadness and sorrow. I could hardly keep my tears from flowing for the fact that patients, families and loved ones were no longer allowed to visit in the hospital due to COVID-19.
Earlier that week I learned that a no visitor policy was going to be put into effect. It would allow for some exceptions but few. I could not imagine what that would be like for patients, families and loved ones. It was then I realized how serious COVID-19 is and how serious it was expected to become in our communities. That night I went home and cried. I cried for patients and their loved ones, I cried for myself and staff at the hospital, I cried for the unknown burden of loss that all of us may carry.
In the days and even weeks following, each time the memory and image of that family came to my mind, I teared up as it represented to me so much and the experience of so many.
Bishop Susan in her Lenten and Eastertide homilies often encourages us, her online parish, to “go deeper” when we struggle with physical distancing.
So when this image came to mind again, as it faithfully would, I recognized that I needed to go deeper. For me, that meant I needed to start looking with COVID-19 eyes and begin to feel with a COVID-19 heart. My old way of understanding and experiencing relationships and social norms were not helping me anymore.
I started to see and feel how love and relationships transcend the barriers of COVID-19; even the most painful barriers. Before I really knew what was happening to me that image began to strengthen me and to give me hope. I recall the image to my mind often as it has become one of the significant ways in which I am encouraged. The image of God reflected through the love of that family and through the love within our relationships with each other transcends the barriers of COVID-19.
The Reverend Deacon Ann Vander Berg is parish deacon at St. James (Dundas), and a hospital chaplain in Hamilton, ON.