In autumn, our hearts find comfort in the familiar words of Ecclesiastes.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to 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 cry.”

During the recent pandemic, when death raged all around us, one of the rituals I most missed was the opportunity to gather physically with other families as they mourned the loss of loved ones – and how those gatherings can knit us, emotionally, as one.

Before the arrival of COVID-19, tragedy struck the commercial fishing community of Cape Porpoise, where I live, when two seasoned lobstermen lost their lives in a fatal accident at sea. The Coast Guard arrived 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 though the pall throughout the town in the aftermath of their loss was palpable. And I was struck, driving by that day, to see the overflow crowd that had gathered to pay their last respects.

In the past when I have attended services at the local Church on the Cape, I have been struck at the role it has played in this village. The buoys of lobstering families, with familiar names from my childhood, festoon the slender entryway adjacent to the sanctuary.


The congregation’s pleas are real – not metaphoric – when singing hymns to beseech the Almighty “to bid the mighty ocean deep / its own appointed limits keep / O hear us when we cry to thee / for those in peril on the sea.”

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

The minister of the Church on the Cape at the time thoughtfully and heroically crafted a moving memorial – yet following COVID protocols, only immediate family were allowed to gather. Others, including children and grandchildren who lived across the country, were advised not to attend.

It was the first memorial service I experienced virtually – filled with beautifully crafted video tributes, which we watched from our homes connecting us online, for a brief moment, in our separate locales.

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

I only recently attended my first post-COVID memorial service – held in a wood-paneled recital hall in a newly renovated building on the college campus of my alma mater in Brunswick.


When I had been a student there, the building had housed an indoor pool, which one of the daughters of my late professor noted in her remarks. For it was there that her father – who’d been a towering professor of political theory on campus beginning in the 1960s – brought her and her sisters to the Friday afternoon faculty swim.

She was standing in the shallow end, she reminded us, we were seated where deeper waters once beckoned.

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

“Daddy was a lot shorter,” she quipped. Or at least it seemed that way to her when he was playing silly games at home or pretending to be an underwater sea monster in the campus pool.

We smiled through our tears as she and others shared such images and stories – and as we collectively bid farewell to a man who had meant so much to all of us.

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

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