By Carlos Rayman

Giova Gallagher at her home in Hamilton, Ontario. (Brian Gallagher/T•)

Thou Shalt Remember Thy Sabbath Day? A new meaning to the age-old commandment and how one mourner came to terms with a shuddered house of worship.

On a bright spring morning in the suburban town of Burlington the bees buzzed, the tulips swayed, and the sky was a cloudless teal blue above St. Christopher’s Anglican Church on Guelph Line in the Roseland neighborhood. Giova Gallagher recalled waking that morning, drawing the drapes, the sun stinging in her eyes, while feeling a moment of serendipity as she looked towards her church circle at 11 am.

Station wagons and mini vans streamed into the parking lot of St. Christopher’s as they often did on a Sunday morning. Children with their hair brushed neatly, holding their parents’ hands as they skipped to the church doors. “There was something rare about the people at St. Chris” recalled Ms. Gallagher. “The routine of attending service and seeing my church circle gave me a sense of belonging.”

Fast forward to winter 2021 and all that can be heard on the church grounds Sunday morning is the flag clanging against its pole, as clouds gather overhead. The pews are empty, and a cold eerie energy fills the halls inside. The doors have been shuddered on account of COVID-19 restrictions set in place by the province. The house of god is padlocked until further notice.

As jaw-dropping as it was to not be knee dropping with her husband, Brian, Giova had an opinion on the matter of her humble church’s closure and was not afraid to speak about it.

“As a nurse myself, COVID-19 is not a joke, it’s a serious matter, and I’m not saying that religion is not necessary, I supported the lockdown. But my parents started to decline almost exactly at the start of the pandemic, so I was working, taking care of them, and the Zoom services offered kind of helped, but I eventually stopped going.”

Giova’s harrowing tale of surviving the Coronavirus pandemic and one of the most challenging years of her life, was telling to what so many silently faced in the community but kept clandestine. 

In December of 2020, her life entered a storm of seemingly never-ending bad news. Both her mother and father’s health plunged. They were both hospitalized and contracted COVID-19 during their stay. With visitation prohibited, FaceTime was the only means of communication between her and her parents.

Her husband, sister, and Giova herself soon contracted the illness and were forced to quarantine days before Christmas. The religious holiday she once swooned for now felt bleak.

On December 28th she received a call, a call she will never forget. It was her parent’s doctor at the hospital.

“Your mom is on 100 precent oxygen, her heartrate is going through the roof, her blood oxygen levels are dropping, say goodbye, we’re going to have to take off the oxygen,” recalls Giova.

A grainy FaceTime call was the last contact she had with her mother. Exactly one week, to the day, at 85 years old, her father – also COVID-19 positive – joined his wife in death. As though they departed the world together, like a pair of doves flocking from a cage.

The burden of loosing both her parents was overwhelming, and the church she once held near and dear, was closed. Where was she to turn? The skies? The bible? Or perhaps, the telephone – the only place remaining that no order could possibly restrict her from.

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