COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: Comfort to the Dying During Coronavirus

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Father David BonnarDeath is never convenient. The Scriptures remind us that death can come like a thief in the night (cf. 1 Thes 5:2). A few days ago, when I was not in self-isolation, I received a voice mail from old neighbors. Their 86-year-old father had just died in the home. They wanted me to come to bless his body and comfort him.

Mindful that we were in a stay-at-home order from the governor and not knowing the cause of death, I wondered if it could have been coronavirus. I also wondered how many people would be in the home. I certainly wanted to be pastoral but prudent. This is not a normal time. And then my mind took off with all kinds of scenarios. What if this is coronavirus? What if someone in the home is carrying coronavirus? What would you do?

Before I could return the call, the family called me again. Of course, they were emotional. I could hear the grief in their voice and feel the loss in their heart. They had just suddenly lost their dad.

The more I listened to the brokenhearted person on the phone the more I came to see the family did not want to see me as much as they wanted Jesus in the form of the priest. They wanted some representation of the Church, inasmuch as their father was a devout Catholic who faithfully attended Sunday Mass every week.

I quickly made my way to the street on which I was raised. A flood of memories filled my mind as I approached the home, which was just a few yards from where I grew up. The family was at the door waiting for me. Under the circumstances, I entered in full gear with goggles, gloves and a mask. Even though I was wearing a Roman collar, I looked like I was on a hazmat team.

I was led into the room where he breathed his last breath. I prayed the prayers for the dead and offered a blessing to the family. I had to discard the goggles because my glasses were fogging up. At that point, it didn’t matter to me; I was doing what I needed to do in the name of Jesus and his Church.

The family was so comforted by the prayers and my presence. We took a moment to reminisce about Eugene, who was the consummate husband and dedicated father of four lovely girls. He was a passionate Pittsburgh Steeler fan and earned his livelihood working on elevators. He knew what it was like to go up and down, you might say. To me, Gene was one of those neighbors that, when you saw him, it was always a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Because of the current restrictions on funerals in our diocese due to the pandemic and given the fact that I remain in self-isolation, the family asked me to tape a message for them so that they could have something for their farewell at the funeral home. They could not have a funeral Mass, and they were not permitted to exit their vehicles when they arrived at the cemetery. In their words, they wanted some “closure” to his death. Above all, they just wanted Jesus and the Church to accompany them and give their husband and father the proper respect. Rest in peace Gene!

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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