Funeral During a Pandemic

Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I replayed the scenario in my mind too many times.
The possibility of death. Not mine.
But that of a parent—my mom or my father-in-law.
Endless deaths in long-term congregate care centers
fueled my angst as the virus raged unchecked.
Would my loved ones be next?

Selfishly, I worried about a funeral during COVID-19.
About crowds
and unmasked and half-masking mourners
and hugs and handshakes
and convening over coffee and bars
in a cramped church fellowship hall.

When the governor placed restrictions on funerals,
I felt relieved. There would be no close contact,
no luncheon, no anguishing over possibilities.
Except rules don’t always match reality,
as I learned in early 2021, when my father-in-law died
(not of COVID) only a month after his 90th birthday.

On a frigid Thursday in February, family and community
gathered in a small town Catholic church to grieve.
I wore long johns beneath dress pants. Boots in the cemetery.
Mask clamped on my face. Hand sanitizer in my bag.
And I notified family to keep their distance,
as much as I didn’t want to stay six feet apart.

I wanted to wrap my in-laws in hugs, to shake hands,
to embrace grief and accept comfort and mourn in the usual way.
But I couldn’t. Not during a pandemic.
I tightened my arms to my sides and tried to distance myself
from the maskless and the half-maskers,
those who seemed unwilling to respect me or the virus.

Inside, I felt conflicted. Wanting to flee the funeral,
yet understanding that I needed to stay,
that my father-in-law deserved my honor, love and respect.
So I mentally chose to set aside my COVID concerns.
I allowed hymns and liturgy to comfort me,
the angelic art of St. Michael’s to calm me.

When the service ended, I crossed the highway with family,
mourners bundled in black slipping across ice to the cemetery.
In the bitter cold afternoon, we prayed, then placed roses atop the casket,
I noticed the supporting priest slip away,
his red buffalo plaid coat and matching ear flapper cap a flash of color
in the darkness of the day, of this unforgiving pandemic.


About Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Audrey Kletscher Helbling writes from Faribault, her home of 39 years, but with her work rooted in her native southwestern Minnesota prairie. A strong sense of place defines her writing and photography, showcased on her Minnesota Prairie Roots blog. Audrey’s passion for writing began in journalism and expanded to include poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work has been widely-shared—in anthologies and literary journals, on billboards and poetry walk signs, in a museum exhibit and poet-artist collaborations, performed by a chamber choir, and more.


Funeral During a Pandemic Copyright © 2021 by Audrey Kletscher Helbling. All Rights Reserved.

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