Reflecting on making a memorial to the people who died from COVID-19
When I decided to mark Ash Wednesday at Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens by putting up a memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, I didn’t realize how impossible of a task we were undertaking.
I naively thought my husband Michael and I could design and construct something that would help us visually process our collective grief while giving us a representation of the number of people who died. It turned out to be impossible because the numbers of Americans dying from the coronavirus grew faster than we could keep up. This challenge alone gave me a deeper sense of the reality of this pandemic, the loss it creates, and how difficult it is to process the loss because of its rapid pace. Despite the challenge, I believe we still created something that can help us grieve, and hopefully be part of the process of healing from the loss and trauma of the pandemic. Below are a few reflections from the creation of the memorial:
We designed archways with pieces of colored glass suspended from them. Thanks to the generosity of one of our choir members, Kathleen Jonas, we had a diverse supply of beautifully colored and textured sheets of glass. To get them to an appropriate size, we need to break them apart. This was a loud exercise that was also messy. We didn’t try to control the outcome, we let the glass break and recognized beauty in the resulting shapes. Grief is like that too. It results from something being broken or lost, but when we don’t try and control it, it’s possible to recognize fragments of beauty.
Suspending the Pieces
This was beautiful and sad at the same time as the pieces of glass were intended to represent people who died. There is no direct representation of number of individuals per piece of glass, just a diversity of sizes, and shapes. It became a prayerful process for me. Michael and I became aware of the spaces between the glass; it reminded us how so many of those who died from COVID-19 died alone, without family or friends physically present.
The archway represents our connection to each other. Multiple archways became the symbol of our shared path of life, death, and everlasting life.
Ultimately our goal was to create something that embodied the first line in the collect for Ash Wednesday: that God hates nothing God has made. God created life and loves us all. We hope this memorial, whether you experience it in person or through pictures on our website, social media or weekly email, is an opportunity for reflection and prayer, connection and empathy.
The Rev. Deborah Woolsey serves as Rector at Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, and as convener of the Campus Ministry Collaborative for the Diocese of Southern Ohio.