COVID MEMORIAL9.30.21.

A rainbow settles over 600,000 flags along the National Mall earlier this month in Washington, D.C. The flags represent the number of COVID deaths in this country. 1 in 5 Americans have died. 

“Forget me not…

when the sunshine breaks the sky…

Forget me not…

when the moonlight shines bright…

Remembering the good times, remembering the bad and all the times we had…

Forget me not.”

Dr. Philip A. Woodmore plans to share his original composition, “Forget Me Not,” during the “Requiem of Light Memorial for St. Louisans Lost to Covid”on Saturday, Oct. 2, at Art Hill in Forest Park. Woodmore, a longtime member of the St. Louis music community and creator of the off-Broadway play “Antigone in Ferguson,” will serve as artistic director for the memorial concert.

Acclaimed jazz singer Denise Thimes will sing “Forget Me Not,” one of many musical selections featuring artists selected by Woodmore including De-Rance Blaylock and Duane Foster.

Artists, including some from the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, will perform multiple standard and original compositions arranged by Woodmore.

The event was envisioned by Professor Rebecca Messbarger, Director of Medical Humanities and cultural historian of medicine at Washington University. The memorial concert, Messbarger said, is designed to “remember and celebrate those who have died of the COVID-19 virus and bring solace to those mourning their loved ones.”

This is not a new space for Angela Kender, one of the memorial’s scheduled speakers. Kender lost her mother, Dr. Gaye Griffin-Snyder, to COVID last year. Kender, an only child, said her mother- “a rare type of human being”- raised her to be “thankful for everything” and to always look out for those impacted by poverty, tragedy or circumstance.

Motivated by her upbringing and what she perceived as inaction from politicians in the fight against the surging pandemic, Kender gathered stories from the families of COVID victims. With testimonials in hand, she traveled to Jefferson City during the August 2020 special session.

At the Missouri State Capitol, Kender presented photos and real-life narratives of COVID victims. She shared the story of “Tim and Mary Ann,” who were married for 58 years before both contracted the disease and passed away within eight days of each other.

There was the story of “Ricky,” a wife who contracted the disease from her husband. He recovered. Ricky did not.

“Father Edwards”' story was among many that traveled with Kender. The pastor, who “loved to sing and include music into his liturgies” was also a victim of the pandemic. “Nancy, Mitch, Mark, Kenneth, Ann, Bob, Gaye” and the stories of other COVID victims were shared so, Kender hoped, politicians could attach names, faces and families to legislation aimed at combating the disease.  She is heartbroken that the personal stories didn’t stop politicians from politicizing the deadly pandemic.

One of the cruelest aspects of the coronavirus is its impact on grieving families. Safety protocol, limited hospital and funeral gatherings, stay-at-home orders and curtailed memorial celebrations all affected people’s ability to gather and comfort one another communally or pay homage to the dead.

The “Requiem of Light” memorial will attempt to fill those voids. There, Kender will talk about her mother and her untimely death from COVID. Messbarger believes Kender’s story and others will accentuate the true meaning of the event:   

“Public grief rituals or memorials are an ancient and near-universal response to death that proclaim the loss of life. For many of the recently deceased and grieving, their stories remain untold, the agony of their loss unrelieved.”

Woodmore, the author of the book, “Antigone in Ferguson: A Journey Through the Transformative Power of Music,” agrees.

“So many have lost loved ones and need the space to mourn, celebrate and talk about their loved ones. Music is transformative. When music is dropped into any situation, it creates a shift in the atmosphere. Using music when people are looking to find connections, to find answers…is life-changing, mind-changing and can lead to change.”

Rene Knott, host of KSDK’s “Today in St. Louis,” will serve as master of ceremonies. Community leaders including Mayor Tishaura Jones, Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rori Picker Neiss of the Jewish Community Relations Council and Thong Tarm, president of the OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates will speak at the memorial concert.

The evening’s event will end with the lighting of 3,000 lanterns around the waters of the Grand Basin. The ceremony, organizers say, is inspired by East Asian paper lantern festivals that commemorate the dead, “evoke the spirit of those lost and bring light and hope to those who remain.”

This thought, too, is addressed in Woodmore’s lyrics.

“When painting the sky with voices, not one is too small to hear…

We will cherish all the memories and will not let their voices disappear.

Forget me not.”

Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.

“Requiem of Light Memorial for St. Louisans Lost to Covid” is open to all.  The event starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2.

Updated Event Information:
Where: The Sheldon | 3648 Washington Blvd
When: 7-9:30 p.m. | General admission, no reservations required. 
Safety protocols: Proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test is required for entry. Masks must be worn for the duration of the program. 
 
More information is available at www.requiemoflight.com
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