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Healing the Unknown During a Time of Loss

Angie is an interfaith leader with writing published on Huffington Post and Hebrew College State of Formation, pursing her Master of Science in Social Entrepreneurship. She is passionate about creating spaces for others’ healing and in her free time, she enjoys cooking, baking, dancing, and spending time outdoors.

“There have been positive confirmed cases at Maria’s board and care,” my mom’s case worker told me on Friday, April 3. My heart froze as the words sank in. My biggest fear during this pandemic, that my mom who has diabetes would be exposed, was staring me in the soul. Suddenly, I felt sick. Not a sore throat, cough or feverish, thankfully, but the other kind of nauseating sickness I’ve been feeling in waves since this public health situation arrived in my city.

During the first two weeks of my work-from-home career, my fiancé's clinic temporarily closed, and my mom stayed with us in our one-bedroom apartment, air mattress in the living room and all. It was tight quarters, but we got the chance to develop good habits together, like wiping down commonly-touched surfaces daily and singing happy birthday every time we washed our hands. It was uplifting to feel safe in community, albeit at times lacking excitement.

One of these evenings at home, we watched a video of an Italian priest holding a funeral for more than 20 nameless caskets, alone. I was raised Roman Catholic; and in that solemn moment, it hit me - this would happen in the United States, and nobody was ready.

I’m no expert when it comes to end-of-life rituals, but I’ve dealt with death in uncertain situations. When I was a college freshman, my dad went missing in Mexico. I didn’t think it was a big deal at first, surely he’d return home soon and tease us for worrying. Always a joker, my dad. Days. Weeks. Months passed by. We began to speculate involvement from Mexican cartel groups, which had a strong presence in my dad’s poor, coastal hometown in Michoacan. As the initial denial turned into confusion and helplessness, I started having dreams about seeing my dad’s body wash up at distant, unknown shores, or sometimes, curled up in the fetal position, shivering in mysterious caves. Ten months later, my family in Mexico hosted a funeral for my dad, without his body, and I decided to start therapy. I realized then the importance of having religious closure and someone to talk to when healing from loss.

I wondered how the family members of the deceased in the Italian priest’s video were feeling, unable to host a traditional funeral for their loved ones. How would this affect their mourning and healing processes?

I started to think about how I could use my interfaith experience and network to inspire solutions to the problem of dealing with loss during a time of physical distancing. On April 1, after two weeks of brainstorming and outreach, I launched healingtheunknown.com. Healing The Unknown is a platform for individuals facing loss and uncertainty to connect with a community of peers who can hold space for them with respect for their religious identity and background. It serves a dual purpose in also providing an outlet for volunteers to contribute creative content on interfaith topics.

I never thought only two days after launching, I’d be dealing with the uncertainty of my mom’s exposure to the virus. How do we prepare as a family in the case she does get sick or any of the rest of us do? Are we ready—emotionally and spiritually?

I definitely don’t feel ready. What gives me hope, though, is to see members of my interfaith network coming together to support their peers. One of our volunteers said it is “a blessing and utter joy to be able to be virtually and spiritually present for folks even when we can't be physically together.” I couldn’t agree with him more. In the short time since we have launched, I have discovered the need we have as humans in a global community to feel emotionally and spiritually seen and heard despite being physically distant. The need to feel uplifted and the power of reading others’ stories who are going through similar experiences to do so. One reader shared that even though she doesn’t identify as religious, she loved reading one of our blogs because it gave her hope during a time of overwhelming exposure to negative news.

With humility, I invite interfaith leaders everywhere to volunteer on our platform to offer peer support or contribute uplifting content. We are the only virtual peer support platform for people ages 18-25 (undergraduates, graduates and recent graduates) that offers both spiritual and secular care all in one place, and where the care and support doesn’t end upon graduation. We focus now on peer support around grief and loss, but are testing our community’s needs and may begin to offer peer support around economic anxiety in the next month or two. May Healing the Unknown keep growing to become a blessing and source of support for those who seek it. All are welcome.

INTERFAITH AMERICA

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