Creating a Sacred Space to Grieve and Celebrate Life

Community Life
an assortment of rocks with names on them as tribute

Posted: July 14, 2020

By: Chaplain Brian Bortz

Finding sacred space to grieve and celebrate the life of a loved one who has passed has been a challenge during COVID-19. Death is a natural and unavoidable part of life, and something experienced often in a senior living community. We have said goodbye to twenty-one residents at the Suites at Someren Glen neighborhood over the last few months, and due to federally directed isolation protocols, we could not hold traditional Celebration of Life events. We knew the grieving process for team members would need to be altered a bit from what is customary. One of the truths about our team here at the Suites is that there is little time for grieving the loss of one of our beloved residents. It is also true that grieving the loss of someone is as unique to each individual as a fingerprint. For most of the team, the needs of the remaining residents require ongoing focus and commitment. Grief, therefore, must be experienced in brief “snapshots and soundbites” that may or may not provide fair opportunity to process loss.

An Ebenezer Garden

The traditional corporate celebration of life services, no longer permitted, required something unique in light of the COVID outbreak. We needed another way to move through the grieving process…albeit in a small but significant way.

In response to this “new normal,” we came up with a way to encourage community-wide participation without the familiar opportunity to gather as a group. I was reminded of a passage of Scripture in the Old Testament: “Afterward, Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, Thus far the Lord has helped us.” 1 Sam. 7:12

The prophet set up a stone of remembrance at the very same site of defeat just a short twenty years earlier.; It was his way of placing a visible memorial to the invisible heart of love and compassion that God’s presence provides.

Inspired by this story, we provided residents and team members with stones of remembrance. Each stone was signed by one or more team members and residents as a way of surrounding our beloved residents with a tangible way of remembering the love and care provided by the team. The pens used to record messages of love and connection are gold and silver…reflections of the value of community. The garden also provides a place of reflection for our residents to be reminded of God’s ongoing provision and presence as well as the ongoing contribution each one of our beloved residents leaves as a legacy.
This Ebenezer Garden is a sacred space to remember the amazing people we have loved well and celebrated and provides an opportunity to sit in a quiet place to grieve the loss of those we have loved.

Chaplain Brian Bortz has served as the full-time chaplain at The Suites at Someren Glen for almost three years. He graduated in May of 2019 from Denver Seminary with a Masters of Divinity. He refers to himself as a “silver seminarian” since he was often the most seasoned student in the classroom. He counts this call to service for residents, team members, and extended families a sacred space where life and love abound daily.

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