Loss in the Time of Coronavirus
by Matt Jenson
I’m getting married to Sarah Brown on July 24. A few weeks ago we sent out save the dates. We’re midway through the planning, with a venue locked in, Chef Mike slated to make some Korean BBQ-style street tacos and churros and ice cream. We’ve got a band and a really fun plan for the dancing. My spiritual director of ten years enthusiastically agreed to officiate. Sarah’s got a dress, too. It’s stunning, I hear—she keeps showing pictures to everyone but me.
That was our February and early March. Now, later in the month, it looks increasingly likely that large gatherings will be out-of-bounds, in late July.
We missed each other recently. Sarah was sad about what seemed to her a waste of money. I rushed in to tell her it wasn’t a waste, totally missing the point—that she was sad. She was rightly feeling the loss of this beautiful day, one that we have been moving towards for four years and, in another sense, our entire lives. “It’s not about the wedding; it’s about the marriage,” you might say. And of course, that’s true. But still… I think you get it: some events, some days, some seasons—well, they just matter.
By the mercy and power of God, ours will be a life-giving, sanctifying marriage, big wedding or no big wedding. We’ll look back on the strange, world-upsetting days of the coronavirus and tell stories of what it was like to begin our life together in the midst of a pandemic. But I bet we will still carry some sadness over the loss of that big wedding. It may not be all about the wedding, but a wedding’s not nothing.
I don’t share all of this to elicit pity. We’re already brainstorming creative alternatives. We are doing well. To be perfectly honest, I’m enjoying a slower pace, the absence of bureaucracy in my life, and an empty social calendar. Instead, I share this because I bet, in fact I know, that many of you are mourning the loss of things right now, too. Seniors, in high school or college, have suddenly had their last days of school and are robbed of a chance to say good-bye, to savor the final days together, to have parties and look ahead and look back and, maybe, just maybe, finally shoot their shot.
Or you have vacation plans, plans you’ve had in place for a long time. It was the first family vacation where everyone was old enough to enjoy one another; or it was the first vacation, just the two of you, where you could leave the kids with their grandparents.
Or you had just begun forming some new friendships. You live alone. You are introverted, slow to come out of your shell; but there are these women you have started getting together with that feel like close friends, the first close friends in a long time. Now, all you can do is video chat —which is nice, but not the same. And you wonder if they’ll be too busy to remember you.
But maybe that feels like chump change from where you’re sitting today. You’ve been laid off, without notice, without two weeks of pay, without prospects of employment. You have bills due, mouths that are complaining and hungry. Your losses are tangible—money in the bank, regular work—and they affect more than just you. They affect your kids, your partner, your extended family.
Brothers and sisters, this is us in the days of coronavirus. We are losing so much. We are understandably, therefore, at a loss ourselves. Everything in me wants to add right at this point that we are not without hope—and, dear ones, we are not without hope! But sometimes we need to say one thing instead of two. Today, let that one thing be that each of us has lost something and will lose something. Too many of us will even lose someone. And the first and best response to that is not to say that everything will be fine but, like Sarah did as she considered the wedding that might not be, to be sad.
I love you, dear family. I am so sorry for your losses. Let’s look for ways to mourn our losses together, and as we do, let us live in the strange beatitude of Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).
Matt Jenson is a member of Fountain of Life Covenant Church and teaches great books in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University.