Tombstone-Cleaning in a Pandemic: Fighting Depression

Pastoral ministry has been steady and unrelenting in this COVID-19 environment.  If anything, most clergy that I know have been working harder than ever, and there’s no break. Please be kind to your pastors as we keep leaning into these uncertain times. We weren’t trained in seminary to do all that we do in a virtual world with 24/7 digital access. It is stressful to the point of emotional, physical, and spiritual exhaustion.

My temper has been short. Sleeping has been difficult. Dreams have been vivid, but not soothing. Eating my problems away has served only to compound them. Usually it is only inanimate objects that get my goat. Lately it’s been anything, everything, and everyone who gets on my hypersensitive nerves. Lucy of “Peanuts” comic strip fame doesn’t have to charge a paltry nickel to give me the diagnosis: depression.

Usually when I’m down the sure-fire cure is to get busy on a project. All kinds of projects have been done over these 19 weeks of isolation. Beyond the constancy of ministry, there have been other tasks to do. Planting blueberry bushes was one project. It had been a long time since I used dreaded posthole-diggers but I dug ten huge holes, plus amended the soil with enough wettable sulfur to make it more acidic for the blueberries. Unfortunately, in my COVID-fog, I ordered twenty bushes instead of ten, and ended up planting two per hole, plus they sent me a couple of extras.

There were lots of such projects around the house. Cleaning out and organizing cabinets, installing shelves, gardenia bushes were planted, several foundation shrubs were replaced. Unfortunately, once you start doing home projects they begin to multiply. You can’t paint one room without it making the rest look like they need it. I have dug, piddled, planted and tried to work myself out of the funk that I’m in. The plan worked until the nutsedge invasion.

Nutsedge, otherwise known as plain old nutgrass, is insidious. When you cut your lawn, it’s the nutsedge that comes back first and rises above your manicured lawn like a greenish-yellow monster. Every time you cut the grass, it gets worse because it spreads. Half my yard is infested. I bought “Sedgehammer,” an appropriately named nutsedge killer. It’s expensive stuff, like $200 per ounce expensive, and I had to purchase a surfactant additive to make the deadly stuff stick to the invading army of nutsedge. I sprayed the whole yard multiple times. Still there. Bought a different product, same woeful results. This was a project that I made worse instead of better. The nutsedge pushed me into heinous depression. This was my tipping point: Nutsedge is something I can’t fix, and I’m a fixer! Wham!

We all like projects where we can accomplish something, and see the results. I thought maybe that would help, so I have spent quite a few days social distancing with dead people in a cemetery. I have driven 18 miles from Aiken to Edgefield, SC to clean off my brother’s grave, and my Mom and Dad’s graves. I ended up cleaning off grandparent’s tombstones, great-grandparents’ and more. Fifteen wheelbarrows of gravel have spruced up the family plot. I figured out the right combo of chemicals, tools and elbow grease to get those gray-green lichens out of the carved dogwood blossoms that encircle my parent’s marker. I have a new appreciation for dental hygienists, and the need for everyone to floss. However, let me tell you that one of the most satisfying things that I’ve done during the entire pandemic is to make my family’s multiple tombstones shine like brand new. I also sprayed on enough heavy-duty year-long grass-killer to fry the rest of my scalp off like the scorching summer sun. I wish the nutsedge was as easy!

Have you been in a funk? Are you depressed? We need projects to accomplish, but sometimes they’re futile. We need one another, and we’re made by God to have human contact, but the pandemic has relegated us to lonely cemeteries. If you’re like me, you’ve either run out of projects or the brains to fix them. Depression has set in. We perfectionists, who have more than a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder, are FREAKED OUT by the chaos in our world. But, here’s the good news. God is God, and I am not! As much as I think that mantra is tattooed on my brain, I forget. God is God, and I am not! God give me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Whew!

The harried mother of a newborn reached for her cellphone and heard a loving voice say, “How are you, Darling? What kind of day are you having?” “Oh, Mom,” said the young mother while breaking into tears, “I’ve had such a bad day. The baby won’t eat. The garbage disposal is backed up and leaking. I need to go shopping, but don’t have the energy, and besides I’ve just sprained my ankle and have to hobble around. The house is a wreck, and I’m supposed to have two friends over for dinner tonight.”

The mother was shocked and full of sympathy. “Oh, darling,” she said, “sit down, relax, and close your eyes. I’ll be over in half an hour. I’ll do your shopping, clean up the house, and cook your dinner for you. I’ll feed the baby, and I’ll call a repairman I know who’ll be at your house to fix the garbage disposal and leak in a jiffy. Now stop crying. I’ll do everything. In fact, I’ll call George at the office and tell him to get over at your house and help, too.”

The young mother asked, “Who’s George?” Her mother replied, “Why, George! Your father… Is this 284-1373?” The young mother replied, “No, it’s 284-1376.” The older woman said in return, “Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I have the wrong number.” There was a short pause. Then the young woman asked, “Does this mean you’re not coming over?”

Are you feeling it? A lot of us are, aren’t we?  So, we pray, “Please, Lord, show up in our time of need. We don’t know what to do, or which way to turn. Save us from this pandemic; in Jesus’ name. Amen!” Thank God that we reopen the church this coming Sunday. I sure do need it!

30 thoughts on “Tombstone-Cleaning in a Pandemic: Fighting Depression

  1. Praying for you, and God’s perfect Peace. May He grant you all that you need to fill your cup, so that you may pour into others! Blessings, Tina Bumpus

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Tim, I carry the same “need to work” drive even in retirement. Tombstones look great! Jeff and I have done similar things in our plot at Eastview. We are aggravated by all the litter on Eastview Rd. Last spring we picked up 5 large trash bags of litter from Columbia Rd. Exit to end of cemetary property. Perhaps a group of us could form adopt highway teams. I plan to take some initiative on this. Thanks for all that you do through St. John’s. Take care.

  3. It is all so true! Last week was good too. As all. I’m still laughing at the end of this. But many are in deep depression. Thanks, Tim. I’m forwarding to friends away. Mary🎶

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. Thanks for the great post, once again. I shared the end of your post with my sister and friend and got a another round of laughs. I really do enjoy reading your posts. So glad you’re going to be able to get back into the church building Sunday.

  5. Great job on the tombstone. Makes me wonder what my parent’s stone look like up
    In PA. Hope to come on Sunday. Gary with all his ailments probably will remain home.

    1. Pat, My family’s tombstones had needed cleaning for 20 plus years. Crud and moss, lichens. I look forward to seeing you Sunday. Gary can watch as we livestream on Facebook the 9:02 service and the 11 o’clock. We might be small in number at first, but we’re going to beat this thing!


  6. I feel the same way! I’ve finished all my projects (at least the ones that I want to do) and the only question I have is: “Is it too early to decorate for Christmas?” LOL

  7. What’s the grave cleaning formula? I need to go to Marion from Columbia to clean at least five huge markers – the 5 foot type.

    1. If marble use a little muriatic acid and brush/rinse is what I’ve been told. On granite, part bleach and water. Gas powered pressure washer if have water digit. I used on granite and marble covered with gray/green lichens and mold outdoor “wet and away.” It works great over a few weeks. “Spray and Away” works, too. If no water available, I hit Dollar Store for 10-20 gallons of distilled water at $1 a pop.

      Sent from my iPhone


  8. Thank you, Tim! I understand your feelings, but have reached a plateau of calm…mainly by avoiding TV news!! You have a way with words! Steve and I enjoyed our surprise chat with you!

  9. Hi Tim,thanks for the excellent insight; you captured the collective mood of me and our culture! Had an earlier heated discussion with my wife,subsequently, sent her your message, and it helped both of us to better understand the dynamics.
    Bennie and Frank McCoy,friends from Greenwood days speak very highly of you.
    My early family,German,settled in Edgefield and owned Seigler pottery.
    Thanks for your ministry and service.
    Be blessed, Rallie

    1. Rallie, Glad it helped. My family has been involved in Edgefield pottery, too! My Dad had the Pottersville Museum, and I’m a potter. Speaking of German descent, I’ve got Dorn’s, Timmerman’s, and more. God bless you. Seigler Pottery is good stuff! Tim

      Sent from my iPhone


  10. Tim, Your thoughts are always a blessing to me. Thanks. I think my biggest problem is the need for human touch, just a hug or even a clasped hand. My husband is good about it, but I miss other people, going to church & Sunday school WITH people. CUMC is doing a wonderful job keeping up with us and the Sunday message and we are even having small singing groups live just prior to the sermon, but the day to day interaction is what is missing. Blessings to you and yours. Covid 19 is a large lesson in letting go and trusting that God will get us through.

  11. You said it all in just a realistic way yes we are a little bit closeted a little depressed and filling our days c with hope I am still nursing my back fractures and have cancer in my eyesBut I’m still smiling and I miss you and I miss church so much

    1. Dianne, God bless you with healing, and y’all and everyone safe! Tim

      Sent from my iPhone


  12. Tim, I think I hit the wall early last week. It’s been harder to occupy myself as my back has improved because I see lots of yard work I want to do, but am trying to avoid to protect my back that is still healing. So Randy’s “to do” list of yard work continues to grow and his interest less and less!! A good friend led me to an online bible study titled “Get Out of Your Head” by Jennie Allen, and I’m feeling more settled. I am definitely missing people—in person, not just on Zoom! I’m trying to remain hopeful. Hang in there.

    1. Diane, I get it! Let your back heal, and God bless you and Randy. We will make it, but it’s getting soul-weary. I know we’re all glad Jesus said, “Come unto me all who are weary …” Take care, Tim

      Sent from my iPhone


  13. Enjoyed your writing. Stay safe. Everything is going to be okay, we just have to keep the faith.

    1. Hoyt, Great to hear from you! Y’all do the same! Strange times, but God is always good. Tim

      Sent from my iPhone


  14. COVID19 survival… I have taken refuge (and joy) spending a couple months home in Minnesota with kids, grandkids, friends and other family. The visit has helped me over the hurdles you have so eloquently described here. I am sorry for all you have had to deal with and I can’t even imagine carrying my own struggles and the understandable struggles of an entire congregation! And hrough it all you have kept your wonderful sense of humor; thank you for sharing! God Bless You!

    1. Char, Glad you’re in safe refuge! We’re fine. It’s just been so tiresome and feel powerless. The stresses of congregational life are exacerbated, and pastoral care by telephone isn’t my mode of choice. Thanks for your prayers for all clergy who are tried to shepherd their flocks virtually.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s