I often contemplate what most people consider an obscure year. Just like me, many have been left with scars compelled by the surreal experiences lived during the pandemic in 2020. I am impressed by the trust and capability God offers us to ignite small flames in the hearts of others, even when opacity has overcome. Light cannot be anything but brightness; it dispels darkness. It enables us to see what we are doing and where we are going. God is light. His only son, Jesus Christ, is light. The Holy Spirit He has sent to live inside each of us is light! We are God’s ambassadors, and we shine oh so brightly without even realizing it.
As the images of gowned and face-masked humans removing body bags from medical facilities filled the television broadcasts of 2020, some of us lived the desperation, the agony, and the gloom firsthand. Hope felt lost. Working the COVID Unit drained me. I was so limited in what I could do, and I felt I was fighting a losing battle. I couldn’t eat, sleep or be present as a wife or mother when my workday ended. It was hard!
There is a lingering impact for many of us who poured our hearts out during the pandemic, serving and not quitting the battle. My experience was surreal, facing an unknown combatant and at times feeling defeated. Working brought a new kind of traumatic experience – one that required resilience and faith in the face of adversity. The darkness seemed inescapable, seeping into my soul and capturing my vulnerable human sentiment with false imprisonment and hopelessness. Fortunately, the one good thing the pandemic did was help me realize that we are all equipped to pierce the darkness with our beams of faith.
Those early days of the pandemic I began to comprehend, the importance of being light for those around me. Every isolation room I entered, every hand I held, and every tear I wiped, made me realize the power of humanity in this world. I felt the presence of God in those rooms. God recognized me under the gown and mask. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus compares his followers to light, and it was during dark moments like these that my light needed to shine through! I needed to ignite a spark for my patients, their families, my colleagues, my family and my community. Jesus told his followers, “Let your light shine before others,” and with this, He was calling me (and every one of us) to live an active faith. Every circumstance we find ourselves in is an opportunity to shine brightly for the Lord and to share God’s truth.
In the spirit of cherishing the moment, I initiated a prayer group before our shift every day. We prayed for each other, our patients and the world. It was extremely beautiful to be able to unite everyone in prayer for the end of the pandemic. Prayers definitely gave us tranquility and serenity during our hectic, long shifts. As I stood at the bedside of a patient, who looked up at me with his pale face and saddened eyes, I realized he only had a few hours left to live. His family feared getting infected and did not want to come into the facility to say their last goodbyes. It was my duty not to let him die alone. I called his loved ones using Facetime asking if they wanted me to pray. Together I prayed the rosary with the family as the patient took his last breaths. I am sure our Blessed Mother was present with us all!
Although it was an incredibly challenging time for me, I am forever grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to see below the surface of all the chaos and trust fully in His providence and grace. I will forever hold dear to my heart, each and every one of my patients who lost their lives under my care due to the devastating complications of COVID-19. I will remember every conversation at the bedside, every prayer, every phone call made to families and every hand I held.
I often pray for the souls of those we lost and their families and thank God we have surpassed the torment of fear as the death tolls have decreased immensely since 2020. As we await Jesus, Light of the World, we embark on a new season with expectant hope! Christ truly is Emmanuel, “God with us.” He knows us in our humanity, our joys, our struggles and our sickness. This Advent, may we all welcome Jesus realizing he has been with us all the time and will carry us through every crisis. Christ comes for us in the darkness in hopes that we, too, will bring his light to others. If we are open to God and this beautiful gift, we will see the light of Jesus grow within each and every one of us!
Leiri Bocanegra was born in Villalba, Puerto Rico but now resides in Massachusetts with her Husband and four children. Leiri and her husband Gustavo met in their parish youth group, “Agape,” and have been serving together ever since! You can usually find them singing together at church events and retreats! Leiri works as the Coordinator of Outreach and Evangelization for St. Mary’s Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She also has a nursing background in both Geriatrics and Pediatrics. She has been a member of the Holy Family Institute for six years and enjoys Family Ministry. Her biggest accomplishment has been becoming a mother. She enjoys being able to use social platforms to help other Catholic mothers connect and assist one another through the wonderful vocation of motherhood!