‘People have put their grief on hold’: Priest on losing daughter to cancer during Covid-19
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Priest Lynda Sebbage knows exactly what it means to put grief on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Reverend Sebbage was licenced to the Barrow Benefice earlier this month – which includes five west Suffolk churches – at a time when society’s needs are great.
Loneliness, mental health problems and financial woes will be some of the challenges facing her parishioners, and she is only too familiar with another – having to pause your grief because of Covid-19.
Revd Lynda lost her daughter Sarah Goodby, 40, to breast cancer during the national lockdown in April.
Not many people were permitted to come to the funeral, there was no wake afterwards and no hugs to express what words can’t.
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The service from Risby Crematorium was livestreamed - which was better than nothing, Revd Lynda said.
“All these people have put their grief on hold,” she said. “They haven’t been able to express it. People cannot seem to move on.
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“I cannot move on because certainly in my case there will be a service in London with 100-odd people and that cannot happen yet.
“I have said all along I don’t think I, or the family, have started to grieve properly yet and I don’t think that will happen until we have closure.”
Revd Lynda’s daughter lived in London and worked as a medical secretary at St George’s Hospital, which has named a conference room after her.
She said the family managed to get Ms Goodby out of London just before lockdown – “like a big escape” - and she moved in with the Priest’s sister in Norwich for her medical needs.
“I would be there with her as much as I could, and on the day she died I held a little service around her bed, and handed her over to God.
“It was extremely moving doing that for your own child. And I also took part in the funeral.
“I have taken a number of funerals since then and have learned to overcome my own grief. You leave your personal life behind,” she said.
Revd Lynda, who previously lived in Sudbury and was a curate in Clare and Cavendish, has organised a service of remembrance at All Saint’s Church, Barrow, on November 1 for anyone who has lost a loved one, but particularly in the last year, to share their memories and grief.
There will be paper leaves that can be hung on a ‘memory tree’ that will be lit up with candles.
Revd Lynda said she would find the ‘remembering a life’ service hard, in a situation where she will be both Priest and mourner.
She said: “Jesus experienced every possible emotion going.
“He suffered losing loved ones. He suffered pain and hurt and death and there was nothing he didn’t go through for us so I get comfort from that. He knows exactly how we feel.
“A Priest can also go through these experiences and relate to those people they are ministering.”
Revd Lynda, who was appointed at the start of lockdown and moved to Barrow in August, spoke of the importance of technology to reach people, such as church services being recorded or live streamed.
And even though the churches are now open, Zoom and phone calls are still a vital way to make contact during the pandemic.
But she added: “How do you do a virtual hug? I don’t know. There’s a lot of loneliness out there.
“One of my key roles when I came here was just to get to know people.”
Revd Lynda makes a point of walking around Barrow with her dog and prayer team to make contact with her community and also takes a seat in the Old Cowshed coffee shop, where she will wave to people as they come in.
“If anyone has a problem, I’m there with a coffee,” she said.
Her weekly newsletter also goes through people’s doors and she wanted to mention the work of the parish council in supporting the community during this tumultuous year.
For many, winter is looking bleak, so what advice can Revd Lynda offer to get through it?
She said: “Keep talking, keep praying of course. Keep trying to keep connections open and know you are not alone. We pray for the whole community here.
“I’m a team of people and we walk around the streets of Barrow and we plan to extend that to Risby, Denham and the Saxhams.
“We want people to know we are coming to them.”
Looking to Christmas, they are trying to think outside the box, for example “carols with a difference” due to the restrictions on singing, and an art project – Footsteps through Advent - (from November 29 through December) involving all five churches, the community and two schools hopes to get that joyful Advent and Christmas message across.
? Revd Lynda’s benefice is on Instagram.