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Family Life | Losses too much to bear

About 1,850,220 confirmed cases with 114,215 deaths worldwide are not just cold statistics but speak of grave sufferings and losses. As the numbers continue to climb, no one is left untouched with lockdowns, stoppage of everything from air, sea, and land travel, freedoms curtailed to the minimum. This COVID-19 pandemic has brought and continues to bring great grief and even depression to many.

Cremation or interment with no family presence becomes the norm for deaths, regardless of the cause. My heart grieves too for every doctor, nurse or frontliner who attended to infected patients due to their call of duty and died, as I think of years of study and expertise down the drain. Our story today gives us a glimpse of the grief and the process people go through in times like ours.

There was a famine in the land of Bethlehem, so the family of Elimelek, Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion went to Moab to survive. However, Elimelek died in Moab, leaving Naomi and her two sons. After another ten years, Mahlon and Kilion who married Moabite women, Orpah, and Ruth respectively, also died with no explanation or reason given. No children came from both couples, which meant that Elimelek’s line was finished with no one to carry his name in the future, and Elimelek’s property back in Bethlehem would go to his male relatives, leaving Naomi destitute.

Naomi heard that the famine had ended, so she decided to return to Bethlehem bereft of a family as she persuaded her daughters-in-law to return to their own families. She just wanted to be alone to nurse her grief, and for her daughters-in-law to have another opportunity to remarry with their people. But Ruth, even with her loss of a husband, knew Naomi needed a companion, especially during such a time.

Losing one’s husband and two sons in a foreign land is a heartbreaking traumatic experience. Naomi experienced many losses: loss of husband and sons, loss of property, loss of descendants, loss of hope for a bright future! Naomi’s despondent state was shown in her statement to the people in Bethlehem: “Don’t call me Naomi [meaning “pleasantness”], call me Mara [meaning “bitter”], because the Almighty has made my life very bitter . . . the Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:20-21). The need to blame and be bitter against someone is a natural response of grief and loss, and God is the easiest one to blame perhaps because she had prayed hard during those times for a miracle to save her loved ones from death. In that bitter, depressed state, Naomi nursed her sorrow and did not take any initiative. Ruth, a stranger in Bethlehem, volunteered to work in the harvest field and find food for them.

Ruth’s experience is another story, but her presence was an important part of Naomi’s recovery from grief. When Ruth experienced God’s guidance to a relative’s field and was protected and provided well, it gave Naomi a renewed hope. She began to give instructions to Ruth to secure the latter’s future. The kind relative and landowner, Boaz, eventually married Ruth and gave birth to a son. What this meant for Naomi is depicted well in the passage: “The women said to Naomi: ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’ Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, ‘Naomi has a son!’ And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:14-17).

The women’s statement that Naomi has a son is very relatable for grandparents. I consider my grandchildren as my very own and they give me a new lease on life, a reason to stay healthy and live longer to guide and see them grow and have a bright future.

Death is certain and brings so much grief. There might be blaming, anger, regrets, denial, despondency, depression. It is helpful to have someone who loves and understands to come alongside like Ruth did, giving time for grief to run its course. And in these times of quarantine and isolation, God is still the one we can turn to for strength. As Cassandra Brown who lost her husband and son within 3 days to COVID said of the unimaginable pain: “My two men are gone. I am standing here in the strength of the Lord, not on strength of my own.”

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