Stories: Who We Have Lost

The Garden

Story aboutMichael Mantell

Another spring season without you but I am planting the flowers in the garden that was your pride and joy. You always bought way too many and wound up giving them away to neighbors because there wasn’t enough room.

Everyone commented that Mike’s flowers are in again–“He would be happy.” This year, I didn’t buy as many … hard to look at the house when the flowers brighten everything. I still feel that I will walk in the house and you will be there with your muddy shoes on, having a Coca-Cola.

On Saturday afternoon, May 20, 2023, family and friends, among them a circle of survivors bonded by the loss of loved ones to the COVID-19 virus, gathered at QED in Astoria, New York. We were there to recognize the publication of Who We Lost: A Portable COVID Memorial and to share our stories honoring our loved ones.

It was an emotional day. Even the weather seemed to mourn as copious amounts of rain fell from the sky. It was wonderful to personally meet so many people who I have only ever known as a face in a little box on a Zoom meeting screen.

It seemed as if we were finally holding a wake or sitting Shiva — something many of us were unable to do early on in the pandemic. We laughed; we cried; we remembered; we validated their importance in our lives. And, we left committed to keeping their memories alive.

In the story I read about my husband, Jody Settle, I talked about how he enjoyed the music of Willie Nelson. When I got home on Saturday, ready to decompress, I turned on the radio only to hear Willie Nelson’s song “You Were Always On My Mind” pour forth from the speakers. A few tears rolled down my cheeks as I laughed out loud. I could only imagine Jody telling me that all of them had gathered together to remember us.

Attended Book Launch and Reading

Story aboutLaunch and Reading

On Saturday, May 20th, I attended the NY book launch and reading of
“Who We Lost,” in Astoria, Queens. I was there, along with Sherry Deren,
in support of our writing workshop colleague Ed Koenig, who read his
included piece, in memory of his husband Jody. I never met Jody in life,
but I have read of Jody many times, in some of the pages that Ed regularly
submits to our writing group.

At the reading, in a cozy setting that was both supportive and protective,
each writer (or reader) was introduced with a short bio and encouragingly
summoned to the stage, I felt myself absorbed in their voices, as they spoke
lovingly of a spouse, parent, sibling, or friend, who was taken too soon,
in a manner that was in many cases cold and didn’t allow for the normal
processes of funerals or stages of grieving. As I had read “Who We Lost,”
in its entirety, prior to Saturday, I felt an empathic connection with each of
the readers as they recited their stories. I felt honored to be in their presence and
to bear witness to the truth that each person who was lost was not simply a
statistic, but was a living, breathing human being, of great importance within the
webs of their families and communities.

I congratulate Martha Greenwald for shepherding the Who We Lost project and
for making this book launch a reality. My hope is that this event is only the start of
keeping the remembrance of these terrible losses, front and center in the
American consciousness, as our country seeks to move on from the Covid
narrative. As all the book’s contributors and many others have stated, Covid isn’t
over for everyone.

A natural body function

Story aboutWilliam R Hillsinger

The title says it all if you really knew my Dad. Miss him so much!

A Pouring Out Of Liquid

Story aboutJohnny Fischer

The day after our book launch and reading, my family and I visited Historic New Bridge Landing in River Edge, NJ — which is significant for its association with the Revolutionary War and was a strategically important site. One of the volunteers was a man dressed as one did in the Colonial Era. He was teaching us about his African American tradition of pouring liquid, water or liquor, on the ground to honor one’s dead ancestors. He explained that this was called libation and it began somewhere in the Nile Valley of Egypt and spread throughout Africa and the world and was carried out by his ancestors even in colonial America. Libation is also carried out to honor the memories of friends who have passed. He gave me a big water jug to pour on the ground and he asked me who I was honoring. I told him that it was an offering to the souls and memories of all those who passed from Covid. A whole weekend honoring our loved ones who will continue to be remembered forever gave me peace.

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