Last week, right in the middle of this Covid pandemic, my family was rocked by the unexpected news that my husband has a brain tumor. Consequently, he’s spent much of the last week in the hospital, and as I write this, he’s in the operating room. It’s all the normal stuff you’d expect, but with one significant difference for us. The hospitals are on lockdown and aren’t allowing visitors. And I don’t mean that they’re limiting visitors to immediate family or restricting hours. I mean they’re allowing basically no visitors at all for adult patients. (There are some limited exceptions for children, labor and delivery, and end of life.) I’ve not been able to enter the hospital at all. I haven’t met his doctors. Both my husband and I spoke with his surgeon before the procedure, but only by phone, not face-to-face.
All of this is both strange and difficult. The hardest part of this whole ordeal has been the inability to see each other, to hold my husband’s hand, to pray with him, or to be with him in the middle of the night when the pain keeps him awake. I wanted to send him off to surgery with a smile, a kiss, and some encouraging words this morning. I want to be there in hospital when he wakes up from the operation. But I can’t. “I’ll see you in a few hours,” has turned into, “I’ll talk to you later tonight and see you in a few days.” And I hate it.
Of course, this isn’t unique to my family. Indeed, many are in much more difficult situations than mine. I think particularly of dying patients and their families, unable to say goodbye in person. I think of patients in areas where anointing of the sick has been suspended because priests aren’t allowed to visit. I think of people facing very long hospitalizations or who live in nursing homes and are unable to see their families for weeks or possibly months. In some places, funerals have even been suspended or severely restricted. For most of us, this virus is causing unwanted isolation and inconvenience, but for some, it’s causing very real anguish.
One of my pastors commented that the promise to be together in sickness is pretty fundamental to marriage. It’s right there in the vows. And yet, in these unique circumstances, we can’t do what is normally expected. We can’t fulfill our promises to each other in the usual ways. It feels wrong because it is wrong. As I’ve wrestled with the distance this past week, that’s been an important reminder. My frustration at being unable to be with my husband isn’t selfishness. It’s not the whining of a spoiled child who can’t have things her way. No, it is frustration with real brokenness, with the upturning of the right and proper order of things. Parents are supposed to be with sick children. Wives are supposed to be with sick husbands. Children are supposed to surround their dying parents.
So what do we do with that? We all understand the reasons for distancing, but how do we balance that with people’s needs to say goodbye and to grieve? Or for patients to be supported by families? Is it even possible to protect people’s bodies while also caring for their emotional and spiritual needs?
I hope that, as we continue to navigate the uncharted waters of this pandemic, we’ll remember the sick, the dying, and the frightened. I hope we’ll make every effort to get families and clergy back into hospitals as soon as we possibly can, because meeting those spiritual and emotional needs is incredibly important. I pray that, as leaders and decision makers continue to make policy and set regulations, they’ll consider physical safety, but also the need for relationships to be nurtured and faith to be expressed.
And I hope that, when we can’t be physically together, we’ll continue to figure out ways to support each other well. This afternoon, as I waited at home during surgery, friends organized a group video call to catch up and pray. Other friends have picked up prescriptions or groceries for us because, as the primary caregiver of an immune compromised husband, it’s not safe for me to go out and do my own shopping anymore. Pastors and community groups have organized conference calls and led prayer from afar in ways that they typically wouldn’t but that respond to our needs in an extraordinary time. Ultimately, these things matter, because we believe in a God who is supremely sovereign over all things, who is not surprised or shaken by our earthly circumstances, and who cares intimately for each and every one of us far more than we could ever know or understand. For this, we are incredibly thankful.
POVs are point of view articles from NC Family staff and contributors