Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” . . . “Your brother Lazarus will rise again,” Jesus said to her. . . . “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she said.
– John 11:21–25
I have heard this biblical passage all my life, and as I have lost people I love, it has become even more meaningful. But during my recent bout with Covid-19, the passage took on a whole new dimension. As I began to come out of the viral stupor, drifting between death and life and realizing that I was still alive, death and resurrection became not just abstract thoughts or ideas but a lived reality.
During those horrific two and a half weeks, I recall becoming aware of my impending death and thinking that it was not evolving as expected. But then again, is our own death ever as we might expect it? I wished I had more time to prepare, to speak to my loved ones, to pray. But there was no energy left for any of those things, just limited awareness and only time for an acceptance of the inevitable.
When, some weeks later, I realized I was alive, it took time to process what had happened. The story of Lazarus became my story. The image of Lazarus stumbling forth out of the grave while shedding his burial cloths became my own image stumbling out from under a mound of covers. I wonder if Lazarus was as confused as I was, not really understanding how the transition from death to life had occurred. I know that life takes time to process, but this was a whole other scenario. I would soon learn that the process can be more complicated than anticipated.
It was shortly after my own resurrection that my husband began to come out of his viral fog, drifting over from death to life. He was very weak, not having been out of bed for almost two and a half weeks. He complained of persistent, severe pain in his right leg. As my son tried to help him to stand, he became aware that his right leg was very, very gray in color and cool to the touch. I was very worried about that leg and its apparently compromised circulation. When circulation is compromised, it usually indicates an extraordinarily serious medical situation.
Since it was late Saturday afternoon and our physician was not available, we placed a call to his emergency service. The covering physician recommended a trip to the emergency room for the assessment of a probable circulatory problem. Arrangements were made and the ambulance soon arrived to take my husband to Long Island’s Southside Hospital. According to guidelines, no family member would be able to accompany him. We would be contacted by the physician when feasible for us to visit.
It was late afternoon on April 4, and we were now playing the waiting game. Time is interminable when you are expecting to hear from a physician. The call finally came at 1:30 Sunday morning. The surgeon explained that my husband had needed emergency surgery in order to remove four blood clots from his right leg, reestablish circulation, and save the leg. She explained further that there were two large incisions made in the right calf in order to prevent swelling. The great gift in the midst of this debacle was that the skill of the surgeon had saved my husband’s leg. Gratitude overwhelmed me.
As I write this, my husband is in a rehabilitation facility where he will receive physical therapy that will hopefully enable him to use his leg again. The time in the rehab facility will also aid him in regaining some physical strength after being totally sidelined by Covid-19, that silent and mysterious killer which almost succeeded in its attack on us.
Today is Good Friday. Now, in addition to my newly perceived understanding of Lazarus, I have a lived experience of Good Friday and the suffering involved. Our God is a God of surprises, and even through this horrific experience, his love has enveloped us in so many ways. The love and prayers of others, the food delivered to keep us strong, the courageous healthcare personnel, and the constant presence of our son, Sean, who became our caregiver, all coalesced so that my husband and I could experience death and resurrection.
As I reflect on all that has happened, I feel that life is a series of deaths and resurrections, some more profound than others. Ultimately, I think I will be better prepared for my final death and resurrection because of this past experience with Covid-19. Our Easter continues to unfold, and I remain deeply grateful, overwhelmed by God’s many gifts in the midst of the chaos.
Epilogue: A Prayer of Thanksgiving
Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.
If the only prayer you ever said in your entire life was “Thank you,” that would suffice.
– Meister Eckhardt
In my life, gratitude started out as an expression of good manners. Ever since I was a young child, I was taught to express thanks for gifts (even if I didn’t always love the yearly gift of flannel pajamas from my Aunt Jessie!), kindnesses, and any small gestures of thoughtfulness which came my way. Of course, we were also taught to thank God for all things; this was reinforced both at school and at home. As a result, thanks and gratitude became second nature to me; life was easier when you were always polite.
As a child, my life was full of all sorts of gifts and blessings and it was easy to express the polite “thank yous.” The nods of appreciation from family and neighbors were strong reinforcements for an impressionable young girl. I have always considered myself a grateful person, and as I moved into adulthood, I tried to maintain the good manners I had been taught over the years.
In retrospect, I realize that I have understood little of the enormity of gratitude. As I look back over the course of a lifetime, I don’t recall thanking God when things didn’t go well or as planned. Overcoming obstacles was not cause for gratitude. The setbacks, the illnesses, the personal problems were just situations to overcome or to deal with as needed. What was there to be thankful for in such instances? Gratitude never entered my mind.
I have finally learned that gratitude for all things is an essential element of the spiritual journey. Saint Paul begins almost all of his letters with prayers of praise and thanksgiving. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul entreats: “Rejoice always, never cease praying, render constant thanks; such is God’s will for you.” Paul doesn’t tell us to be thankful for only the good things, the gifts. He challenges us to be constantly thankful, rejoicing always, which thus includes being thankful for and rejoicing in even the negative and painful things! That attitude demands enormous trust in the loving God who made us and is with us always. Such an attitude calls for faith.
Becoming more aware of my many gifts and expressing my thanks to God for them helps me to be more in touch with the goodness in my life. It also enables me to be more connected to God, thus deepening my personal relationship with him. I try to say thank you to God each morning for the gift of my life. Then I thank him for the day and its many gifts, and I try to verbalize some of them. It helps to say them out loud. It gives me a feeling of peace to know that I have stopped to say thank you to the One who made me and gives me all things, including life itself. I even try to thank him for the painful issues in my life because I trust in his plans which often surpass our comprehension.
There is a line in a prayer that guides my prayer group which says, “Lord, I thank thee for all, I am ready for all. Let only your will be done in me.” I say this prayer every day, and its challenge never struck me so powerfully as when my daughter Kathleen was dying. I quickly realized that the power of the prayer was in reminding me that God is God and I am not. God’s ways are not my ways and I will not understand many of the things which happen in my life. In faith, I accept, and I am even grateful because I know that God is with me.
In Saint Luke’s gospel concerning the ten lepers, the story tells us that one leper returned to give thanks. Jesus said, “Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they?” That story rather forcefully reminds me of the importance of gratitude. O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to thee forever.
Anne Kerrigan is a registered nurse, mother of five, and grandmother of nine. She also has a master’s degree in theology and is the winner of the Australasian Religious Press Association Silver Award in Excellence for “Best Faith Reflection.” She is in the process of writing her memoir. She can be reached at email@example.com. Readers are encouraged to seek out the first part of her report on enduring Covid-19, “The Collapse of Time,” in the May 2020 issue of Today’s American Catholic.