Public memorial would honour COVID-19 casualties


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There’s a deep human need to do right by our dead, an imperative often prevented by COVID-19.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/07/2022 (262 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s a deep human need to do right by our dead, an imperative often prevented by COVID-19.

Many Manitobans who passed on during the pandemic died alone. In their final hours, as they faced the daunting prospect of transitioning to whatever lies beyond this earthly realm, they were denied a loving sendoff from family and friends, who were kept away from personal-care homes, hospitals and private homes by restrictions on in-person gatherings.

It’s also been hard on the survivors, who were barred from the social rituals our culture has developed to process the trauma of death, such as visting the funeral home to view the laid-out body, sharing tearful hugs with the grieving family, and attending funerals where eulogies extol the virtues of the deceased.

It’s as if we still owe something to the Manitobans who died of COVID-19, that we need a creative way to honour them with due reverence.

Perhaps an apt way is a public memorial that immortalizes their names.

To inscribe someone’s identity in bronze is to show eternal respect. A good example is the war memorial on the northwest corner of the legislature grounds that lists the names of the 1,658 Winnipeggers who died in the First World War.

In a similar way, a COVID-19 memorial could record our province’s pandemic fatalities, which number 2,025 and continue to grow. Naming them in a monument would show they’re more than numbers in a death tally. It would recognize their humanity, and their loss, in a visible way.

The design of the memorial could be chosen from bids submitted by artists, perhaps aiming to create a structure that expresses sorrow but also gratitude for the lives lived before the cursed virus took hold.

An example of an installation with a wonderfully creative design is the Holocaust memorial on the Manitoba legislative grounds that names 3,700 victims who had family members in Manitoba. It’s presented in the shape of a broken Star of David designed to reflect the sunlight as a sign of hope and rebirth.

As far as who will build the COVID-19 monument, don’t depend on the provincial government. The Progressive Conservative administration of Heather Stefanson has indicated in several ways it is finished with the pandemic, even though the pandemic is certainly not finished with Manitoba.

By withholding information about COVID-19 cases, and even changing its definition of what’s constitutes a COVID-19 death, the province has shown little inclination to recognize in a visible way the lives of peoople who died due to the virus.

Perhaps the best bet to get the job done is to entrust the project to the grieving relatives of the deceased. That’s how it worked in 1920 with the war memorial on the legislative grounds. That memorial — it’s the one topped by a statue of an overjoyed soldiers tossing his hat as the war ended — was built by the Winnipeg Soldier’s Relatives’ Memorial Association, which compiled the vast list with phone-in and mail-in blitzes to get every name.

The opportunity to volunteer to build a COVID-19 memorial might be appreciated by survivors who were blocked by government restrictions from more traditional mourning practices. Some might find it helpful therapy to belong to a team building a memorial, sharing suffering alongside other survivors who can relate to the sorrow of losing a loved one to COVID-19.

On a provincial level, the memorial could perhaps help heal the partisan rifts that divided Manitoba over pandemic precautions. The survivors who lost family and friends to COVID-19 had their grief compounded when they heard fellow Manitobans downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 and refuse to take safety precautions that would reduce the spread of the virus.

A monument naming every victim would validate the loss of the survivors, perhaps helping to repair the frayed social fabric. The length of the list would be undeniable evidence the virus was much more than “just a flu,” as some anti-vaxxers termed it.

As a momentous tragedy, the pandemic has impacted Manitoba in many ways that will need to be unpacked in the months and years ahead. The process should include a proper commemoration of those we’ve lost.

Carl DeGurse is a member of the Free Press editorial board.

Carl DeGurse

Carl DeGurse
Senior copy editor

Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. A lot of opinions.

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