The Loneliness of Dying

loneliness of dying

While sheltering in place I’ve read a variety of articles about the Coronavirus. Some of these are news, some are statistical, and some describe the loneliness that those who are dying will experience. I’ve seen articles about the process of dying that have been written by people in the medical community. These are often an appeal to honor the shelter in place policies. Although I don’t personally know anyone who’s dying from the Coronavirus, these descriptions shake me to my core. The reality that some people are slowly suffocating without family nearby is tragic.

Words fall flat in the face of this reality. For the few people I know who do have loved ones fighting this virus, I listen more than I talk, and then I don’t offer advice. Then when I’m alone with my thoughts, I reflect on where I find God in all of this. Different days have different reflections, but today is Good Friday. Today I’m thinking about the loneliness Jesus experienced while he was dying.

The Crucifixion in the Gospels

I’ve read the accounts of the crucifixion from all four Gospels today. I looked at the kind of community Jesus had around him as he was dying. Luke and John include details about the few friends or family (mostly women) that stuck around until the end. Luke includes the interaction with the criminal’s belief that day. John includes the conversation where Jesus commissions John to be a son to Mary. Matthew and Mark focus more on the mocking and jeering crowd. These two writers don’t mention family or friends. In these accounts, Jesus even asks God why he’s been forsaken.

I believe dying is inherently lonely for most people. Who can truly know what a person is experiencing physically or emotionally at that point? I’m glad that we have the accounts from Matthew and Mark’s gospels. They make it impossible to focus on side conversations. They don’t allow us to turn away from the trauma.

What Jesus Experienced

There are theological reasons for the crucifixion, which I won’t dive into here. I‘m focusing on the way in which Jesus, the man, experienced death. As we worry about those we love who are vulnerable, or who may already have this coronavirus, we know that Jesus also cares deeply about them. When we read about the terror of those who are denied a ventilator because their chances of survival are worse than another person who needs that ventilator, we know that Jesus sees them and knows the turmoil they’re experiencing. As we hear about people who have died, we know that Jesus had compassion, suffered with, those people while they were dying.

Jesus was rejected and died alone on that cross. We don’t know what Jesus was experiencing when he asked God why he was forsaken. We know at the very least it was an expression of isolation that Jesus was feeling as he died. Death on a cross usually resulted in death by suffocation, either through the loss of oxygen or because the bodily position made it difficult to breathe. Our current pandemic is bringing people to a cruel end, and Jesus knows what these loved ones are experiencing. The comforter, the Holy Spirit, is able to meet them in their isolation with the true comfort of one who knows.

Jesus Knows

I hope and pray for a sudden decline in deaths from this virus. For the day we have a vaccine or a greater amount of herd immunity so that those who are sick can receive care. I look forward to the day when our health care workers can rest and are no longer fearful of their own safety. While we’re in the middle of this, and especially on Good Friday, I’m able to reflect more deeply on the agony of the cross, the hidden emotional aspects of the crucifixion. I’m also reminded that Jesus our savior is also the God who knows—knows our pain, our fear, and our grief.

What are you experiencing right now? Where do you need comfort today?

Photo credit: by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

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