On one of the red and blue sticky notes, a member of the University of Richmond community had written, “Hugs from dear friends.” Another one read, “Kids activities, time with family and people I know.” On another, a single word: “Vacations.”
Several sticky notes were placed under a sign with the heading, “Honoring Our Losses,” displaying all that had been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Campus community members gathered at 5 p.m. on March 31 for "Loss and Resilience: A Community Gathering to Mark the Second Anniversary of COVID-19." At the gathering held in the Multifaith Room of the Wilton Center, attendees had the opportunity to honor their losses and celebrate their resiliency through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Two years later, and here we are,” UR Chaplain Rev. Craig Kocher said.
All of us have lost experiences, memories and hopes because of this pandemic, said Rev. Jamie Lynn Haskins, chaplain for spiritual life and communications director. For many, there was also the loss of life and the grief that comes with it, she said.
“Today, we grieve for the lives they would have lived, the memories they would have made,” Haskins said. “And we remember the impact they had on our lives. Grandparents, parents, husbands wives, sons, daughters, friends, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. So many loved ones who are no longer here all because of a virus we had never heard of just a few short years ago.”
Nearly 1 million people in the United States have died from the COVID-19 virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of almost half a billion confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, over 6 million people have died, according to the World Health Organization.
“There are so many losses to take stock of — so much to grieve — and today, we pause,” Haskins said. “We pause to honor the losses each of us have moved through.”
Two students, senior Regenia Miller and first-year Cheryl Oppan, read excerpts from a poem throughout the service. The pandemic brought poet and activist Amanda Gorman, known for reading the inaugural poem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, to create a new poem titled “Fugue.”
“Don't get us wrong,” Oppan read. “We do pound for what has passed, but more so all that we passed by unthinking, unknowing when what we had was ours.”
Having a community come together after a period of time where nobody was coming together is really special, Oppan said after the event. It’s nice to see that there is still community here, she said.
“Anxiety is a living body,” Miller read from the poem, “poised beside us like a shadow. It is the last creature standing, the only beast who loves us enough to stay.”
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After the event, Miller said this was a good time to reflect on what had happened these last few years.
“Even before the pandemic, Americans just go, go, go, and the rest of the world is very quick with everything from work to school to social gatherings,” Miller said. “But this really made us pause.”
Throughout the service, first-year Benjamin Stalder played thoughtful keys from a piano. Another sticky note from the “Honoring Our Losses” board read, “My daughter’s freshman year in college.” On another, “My Nana’s last moments.”
“I think that those who showed up hopefully found something that they were looking for,” said Josh Jeffreys, Jewish chaplain and director of religious life, ”and were able to have that opportunity to make space to process and hold and be held and hold others through this.”
The UR community was overdue for a time of reflection, said Steve Bisese, vice president for student development, after the event.
“I just really liked the fact that it was not to celebrate that we're not here with COVID — like not music and cheer because we're over it but to give an appropriate time to reflect,” Bisese said.
By the end of the event, a quiet, yet thoughtful mood settled on the audience. Those in attendance quietly paid their respects with a moment of silence paired with music from the piano.
“There was another gap that choked us, the simple gift of farewell,” Miller read. “Goodbye, by which we say to another — thanks for offering your life into mine. By goodbye, we truly mean,
‘Let us be able to say hello again.’”
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