Maine Voices: A Pandemic Victim: The Funerals That Allowed Us To Mourn

In the fall our hearts find comfort in the familiar words of the preacher.

“For every thing there is a time and for every purpose under heaven / A time to be born and a time to die / A time to plant and a time to reap / A time to mourn… and a time to weep. ”

During the recent pandemic, as death raged all around us, one of the rituals I missed the most was being able to physically gather with other families as they grieved the loss of loved ones — and like those gatherings can melt us emotionally into one unit.

Before the arrival of COVID-19, tragedy struck the commercial fishing community of Cape Porpoise, where I live, when two veteran lobster fishermen lost their lives in a fatal accident at sea. The Coast Guard was too late to rescue them from their capsized boat.

The men were not known to me, so I did not attend the memorial service at the local Legion Hall, even though the grief was palpable across the city after their loss. And I was impressed as I drove by that day, seeing the packed crowd that had gathered to pay their last respects.

In the past, when I have attended services at the local church in the Cape, I have been struck by the role it has played in this village. The buoys of lobster fishing families with familiar names from my childhood adorn the narrow entrance next to the sanctuary.

The pleas of the congregation are real – not metaphorical – as they sing hymns to supplicate the Almighty, “That the mighty ocean deep / Keep its own appointed borders / O hear us when we call to you / For those who are at sea are in danger”.

In the spring of 2020, during the first months of quarantine, a neighbor passed away. He had worked as a counselor alongside my mother at the local high school for many years and lived across the street from my mother-in-law.

The then minister of the Church on the Cape thoughtfully and heroically created a moving memorial – yet only immediate family members were allowed to gather, per COVID protocols. Others, including children and grandchildren living across the country, were advised not to attend.

It was the first memorial service I experienced virtually — filled with beautifully crafted video tributes that we watched from home and connected online for a brief moment at our various locations.

With the passing of the seasons and the advent of vaccines and boosters, it is now considered safer to gather in larger numbers.

I recently attended my first post-COVID memorial service – held in a wood-paneled auditorium in a newly renovated building on my alma mater’s college campus in Braunschweig.

When I was a student there, the building had housed an indoor swimming pool, as noted by one of my late professor’s daughters in her remarks. Because that’s where her father — who had been a preeminent professor of political theory on campus since the 1960s — took her and her sisters to the faculty’s Friday afternoon swim.

Standing at the shallow end, she reminded us, we sat where deeper waters once beckoned.

She commented on how it took her a long time as a child to reconcile her father “Professor John Rensenbrink” with the man she knew as “Daddy”.

“Daddy was a lot shorter,” she joked. Or at least that’s how it seemed to her when he played silly games at home or posed as an underwater sea monster in the campus pool.

We tearfully smiled as she and others shared such pictures and stories – and as we said goodbye together to a man who had meant so much to all of us.

A time to laugh and a time to mourn – together again – physically, emotionally and gratefully, as one.

Tom Putnam is a retired museum educator and resident of Cape Porpoise.

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