Joan Huss receives a daily reflection on her smartphone and prays with a cup of coffee on the porch of her Omaha home May 7. Starting the day with prayer is crucial as she attends to her familial and professional responsibilities with the fears and challenges of COVID-19. ELIZABETH WELLS

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Faith routines offer strength and peace during pandemic

Joann Harvell rises at 5 a.m. every day. Prior to mid-March, she left home around 6 a.m., attended daily Mass at her parish church, St. Vincent de Paul in Omaha, and arrived at work by 7:30.

She enjoyed arriving early to talk to co-workers, especially since her husband of 54 years died in June 2019.

Her commute is now down the hall to a home office where she works on a laptop. There is no pre-work banter. Occasionally she has a video meeting or phone call with coworkers, but most hours are spent alone in the silence of her home.

Harvell is among millions of people, young and old, single and married, leaning on their faith as a way to cope with the isolation and emotional challenges of sheltering at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Several Catholics in the Omaha area spoke with the Catholic Voice about these faith experiences.

DOUBLY CHALLENGED

Since government mandates to reduce the spread of the coronavirus were implemented, Harvell still wakes up at 5 a.m., but after getting dressed, she reads from the Bible and a book of daily spiritual reflections. Sometimes she views Mass online.

Her only son, Ron, lives in Portland and calls regularly. Still, the isolation can weigh heavily. Being alone also allows her mind to stray to the mental, physical and financial worries created by the pandemic and being recently widowed.

“I’m grateful to be able to work from home, but it comes with challenges, and who knows how long it will last,” said the 74 year-old. “I can’t afford to get sick because of my age, so I go to the store (only) once a week for an hour and sometimes for a walk in the neighborhood.”

“My faith is what’s keeping me together,” Harvell said. “If I’m thinking too far ahead, I say, ‘Hey Jesus, show me – tell me,’” adding that her late-husband’s death is more deeply felt now than before, because of all the time alone. “I know (God’s) got to be holding my right hand, but some things just bother me.

“If I’m worrying too much, I have to remember he’s got this. He knows everything that’s going to happen, and he’ll be there every step of the way. You have to be able to talk to Jesus because he’s listening.”

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

In addition to feeling isolated, students like Anna Swoboda are grieving missed opportunities. The sophomore in the engineering college at the University of Nebraska at Omaha has returned to her parents’ home from her dorm.

She has missed taking part in an international choral performance in Spain – officially postponed, but likely cancelled – due to the virus. She is anxious about a summer internship in Washington, D.C. All of this against a backdrop of thousands of people dying.

It all crosses her mind, but she’s “trying not to worry about things … to take it one day at a time,” said Swoboda, a member of St. Philip Neri Parish.

She said distance from activities and friends has given her time to pray and reflect on life. It is helping her make sense of recent events, including the social distancing. Instead of seeing it as something lost, she said it is “definitely a way to show that you are not the center of the universe and are thinking of other people’s health, as well as your own.”

MADE FOR OTHERS

Human beings, however, are built for personal connection, which is what makes this time especially hard, said Joan Huss.

She and her husband, Kevin, are members of Mary Our Queen Parish in Omaha. As senior director of program services for Catholic Charities, she’s had to quickly adapt her work, as well as her private practice, to providing all services via telehealth.

Kevin chairs the psychology department at Creighton University from home now and has moved to providing online classes. Their three children, 14, 12 and 6 years of age, are home. The older two are engaged in online learning, while the youngest, who has special needs, requires one or both parents’ teaching and attention.

Huss said their entire family misses face-to-face interactions with others. Their youngest daughter’s compromised immune system means they will carefully continue distancing measures for the foreseeable future.

“The most difficult thing for the human spirit is we cannot physically connect with others right now while being responsible. But God’s grace is everywhere,” she said, adding her morning reflection time helps her notice these graces and helps “realign perspectives about what’s important.” Faith tops her list.

“I have found that without my morning reflection, things in my life do not go as well.” she said. “My prayer life with our Savior is something I really need right now. Without it, I am less graceful, shorter, more on edge.”

To ensure time for prayer in their busy household, coordinating routines has been essential, Huss said. “What my husband and I found is I can’t do it without him, and he can’t do it without me. We’ve had to improve our communication and coordinate nightly,” she said regarding who takes family responsibilities during which part of the day, while factoring in their professional duties.

PRAYER AND ROUTINES

The worldwide scale of COVID-19’s effects dwarfs anything 27-year veteran mental health therapist Deacon Lonnie Dinneen has seen as a crisis responder, member of the Nebraska Risk Assessment Team, senior chaplain for the Omaha Police Department and chaplain for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department.

At 76, Deacon Dinneen calls himself semi-retired. He and his wife Mary, who is a retired mental health therapist, are considered at-risk for the virus. They belong to St. Gerald Parish in Ralston.

Since a member of one of their three children’s families had symptoms of the virus, they are physically isolating from family.

His worries for their family members were heightened as he viewed news images of an excavator digging mass graves for the unclaimed dead in New York City. It was emotional, disheartening and overwhelming, he said.

“Nothing compares to what’s going on right now. The magnitude of the virus just makes it so much worse,” he said.

To make it through each day, he said he finds it most helpful to build routines that satisfy the need to focus on relationships with others, especially with God.

He and his wife begin and end their day with prayer. In between, he attends to the demands of being a crisis counselor and first responder chaplain, all the while having quiet conversations with God, he said.

“It can be setting aside a project (even momentarily) to enjoy the presence of the Lord within me,” he said. “It’s important to allow God to speak to us and give us the comfort and support we need.

“God is taking care of us. He’s allowing this to happen but didn’t cause it,” Deacon Dinneen said. “He gives us answers. It may not be what we asked for, but it’s the answer we need.”

And routines help, he said, including caring for the body’s needs, such as ample rest with regular sleep, good nourishment, hygiene and connection with others, he said. And faith in God is key.

“We believe, with God’s love and those around us, things will work out – not the same as before – but OK,” he said. “There’s always fear in the unknown, but if we have faith and a relationship with God, it will carry us through.

“Some days are easier than others, so we must keep working – through prayer, daily Rosary, meditation, Mass and connecting with others. It all helps.”

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