In late March 2020, my wife and I contracted the coronavirus. I spent the next four months in various stages of recovery. Ruthie did not make it. She passed away on April 9.
Unable to attend her funeral or burial, her death left a huge empty hole in my heart and life. Minister Karisa represented me and her sister, Pastor Kenita, during that time, and we have taken life one faith step at a time.
There have been over 6000 Covid-19-related deaths in Michigan. The Detroit Memorial Drive 2020 celebrated the lives of 1500 Detroiters. As I have written in earlier posts, the global impact of this pandemic has affected families everywhere. The grief Karisa, Kenita and I have experienced is so personal, yet so communal. As we gathered at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheater with hundreds of other families yesterday morning, the surreal reality of Ruthie’s loss was gradually transfigured into a more concrete reality as the parking lot filled with cars, artfully lined up by City volunteers into groups for our processions to Belle Isle.
There was so much RIGHT about yesterday’s event. The smiles that greeted you. The flower and box of tissues that were handed to you. The music on 90.9FM. The $80 voucher for a family repass following the event. The processions led by Detroit funeral directors. The Detroit Police Department patrol and motorcycle officers and Michigan Conservation officers. You felt this was more than an event. This was more than a project. The planning team put more than thought into this event – you felt something special from the heart. For those
of us who were denied the traditional funeral experience and trip to the cemetery, the ten-minute ride to Belle Isle was powerful, dignified and sobering.
My eyes well up with tears of gratitude to the City for this wonderful act of caring and compassion. As we arrived at Belle Isle, I found myself bracing for whatever was about to happen. Then we saw the large pictures, lined up on both sides of the road – faces I will never forget and the families who were sharing this moment with us. Then we saw her – the beautiful smile of smiles. Our Ruthie! In dazzling purple and her trademark beautiful white hair. Kenita chose the picture. Ruthie was breathtaking. Somehow, the three of us felt some of the void had been filled; maybe the beginning of some sense of closure had begun. Our prayer is that the other families experienced the same.
We continue to think of all families, everywhere, who share our communal grief.
As we passed the final pictures, we all commented how soon it was over. We also shared how powerful the experience had been. So thoughtful, so elegant, so heartfelt in its simplicity. For me, I am eternally grateful to the Mayor and the planning team that created this wonderful community event that was also so deeply and incredibly spiritual and personal. The words of the apostle Paul ring loud as he finished his teaching on the resurrection of the dead in First Corinthians 15:
1 Corinthians 15:58
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. NASU
Ruthie was a devout and committed Christian who loved the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God and the people of God. She would want us to heed Paul’s words. We will continue our work for the Lord.
How do we say “THANK YOU?” I pray that in some small way we have done just that!
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth E. Harris
President and Professor of Biblical Studies
Ecumenical Theological Seminary
Pastor, Detroit Bible Tabernacle