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Pain, grief and hope: Friendship Haven remembers pandemic

- Messenger photo by Bill Shea
The Rev. Austin Hill, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Dodge, speaks Tuesday evening during the the Night of Transition and Blessing at Friendship Haven. The service was held to reflect on the past two years of the COVID pandemic.

There was a time when masks were worn only at Halloween and pandemic was a word someone could use to score some serious points at Scrabble.

Then came March 2020 and masks became a part of daily attire and pandemic was instantly added to everyone’s vocabulary as COVID-19 swept through the country.

What followed was two years of pain, grief and stress.

But those two years also brought resiliency, hope and in many cases a greater connection between people despite lockdowns and social distancing.

The anguish was remembered and the new hope was celebrated Tuesday at Friendship Haven during a service called A Night of Transition and Blessing. About 40 people attended the service.

-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
A pair of firefighters comes out of the back door of a home at 206 S. Second St. in Vincent after an overheated electrical system filled the house with heavy smoke Monday afternoon. No one was injured in the incident. - Messenger photo by Bill Shea This lilac sapling that was placed before the altar in the Tompkins Celebration Center Tuesday evening will be planted on the grounds of Friendship Haven to serve as a reminder of the sorrow, pain and rnewed hope caused by the COVID pandemic.

The Rev. Jennifer Owen, chaplain of Friendship Haven, said the pandemic was traumatic for some, painful for many and stressful for all.

“Many of us feel physically and emotionally worn down,” she said. “The pandemic has impacted us more deeply than we are aware.”

But the pandemic also brought out some of the best elements of human nature.

“We have found resilience and grace over and over and over,” Owen said. “We continue to find a way forward.”

Julie Thorson, the chief executive officer of Friendship Haven, described the 27 months of the pandemic as the “season of invisible scars.”

- Messenger photo by Bill Shea
Vara Groot, a resident of River Ridge in Friendship Haven, plays the piano during the Night of Transition and Blessing in the Tompkins Celebration Center Tuesday.

“Tonight is certainly a great tool to help us all heal,” she said.

According to Thorson, in 2020 11 residents of Friendship Haven died of COVID-related illnesses. None of the retirement community’s residents died of COVID last year, but so far in 2022 three have died.

“You bet that it left a scar,” Thorson said.

Deb Johnson, of Fort Dodge, who attends church at Friendship Haven, reflected on how grateful she was that no one in her family contracted COVID. She also talked about how the pandemic brought people together. In her case, an old friendship was rekindled.

Johnson said the pandemic resulted in “an insane amount of camaraderie.”

The Rev. Austin Hill, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Dodge, talked about his own experience getting sick with COVID. Being unable to taste ice cream was his first clue that something was wrong.

He grieved the loss of a member of the church’s Board of Elders who died of COVID and has seen longtime congregation members drift away.

But Hill said he has witnessed some positive things.

“I have seen people step up in new and unprecedented ways,” he sad.

Friendship haven residents Don Seltz and Linda Opheim also spoke. Vara Groot played the piano.

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