Church bells to ring on Sunday for Cape Cod residents lost to COVID

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Each summer, Cape Cod’s population essentially doubles from 215,000 to over half a million. The COVID pandemic has killed more Americans than all of us here, plus 100,000 more. It’s a lot of grief.

As of this writing, Barnstable County’s share of this grief stands at 470 souls. On January 8, we had lost 20 neighbors in the previous four days. We lost 62 in February alone.

Remember how it was. If someone you love got really sick, you had to drop them off at the door of the hospital. No bedside presence, even when someone was dying. People were reduced to saying goodbye on the phone. No public funeral. The retirement homes weren’t any better. We were masked, kept at a distance, worried alone, dead alone, afflicted alone. Parents and elderly grandparents wanted to be held – and we couldn’t hold or hug them.

We are physical creatures who wither without tenderness from others. Even those of us who weren’t infected have suffered in all kinds of ways. Zoom calls couldn’t do much to connect the isolated.

Nurses, doctors and nursing home staff were trained, but no one could prepare them for the physical and emotional exhaustion of losing so many people and feeling so powerless to stop it.

Years ago, when my father was at the Regency, an elderly man died without a family. A nurse shared her perplexity. The man had three children within two hours of here. She sat with him for his final hours, held his hand, spoke and prayed with him, finally closed her eyes. She said it was a privilege to do so, but during the pandemic 600,000 people died, not neglected but isolated. We have seen the photos of doctors and nurses, doubled over and crying.

America has been bathed in grief for two years. Now, as more of us are vaccinated or cured of infections, the death rate is finally falling. On June 27, the 470th Cape Codder was lost to COVID. We hadn’t lost a soul for almost a month. It seems relief is finally coming. We can meet again and even stick together. Finally, we can come together to mourn our dead and support each other in our loss.

On Sunday July 18 at 4 p.m., church bells across Cape Town will ring for 5 minutes to honor and remember those lost to COVID. (Please ask your church to join this.) Our Council of Churches invites all of us to Asleton Park, Hyannis, at the corner of South and Ocean Streets for an interfaith service of mourning, healing and hope, also at 4 pm h. Bring blankets and chairs. We will have Hyannis Harbor in sight behind us when we meet. If you have lost someone, come for company and comfort. If you were sick and survived, please come for gratitude and to support those who weren’t so fortunate. If you were a first responder or caregiver during all of this, please come along so we can thank you.

The service will only last an hour. Those of us who speak will be brief. By “interfaith,” you will mean what neighbors of different traditions found in their scriptures that supported and comforted them during the pandemic. We will share them in the hope of supporting and comforting you in turn. No sermons.

And not a word of politics. If there is an antidote to the viral self-polarization that infects the body politic, it is the community; being together in our shared grief for our losses, our gratitude for our survival and for the caregivers whose love and endurance have inspired us all.

We will set up a collective weather prayer. (We do not have another rainy date available.) Any cancellation notice will be posted before noon that day on the Council of Churches Facebook page. All those who have not yet been fully vaccinated are respectfully requested to wear a face mask. Although times are better, we are not yet completely out of the woods.

Why terrible things happen to good people is the most difficult question in the theology of every faith. The different answers we offer have helped millions of people, but we approach these questions with a brain the size of a lunchbox and humility is in order here. Theology finds firmer ground when we seek the humanity in everyone we meet, when we can wish each neighbor what their parents must have wanted for them at the time of their birth. It is love that guides us at home. Maybe it’s the house itself.

Lawrence Brown is a columnist for the Cape Cod Times. Email him at columnresponse@gmail.com, or join him on Sunday 18.


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