Memorial service honors Delaware’s nearly 3,000 COVID-19 victims

Members of the 'COVID community' are helping others who have lost loved ones during the pandemic. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Members of the 'COVID community' are helping others who have lost loved ones during the pandemic. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

More than two years into the pandemic, Delaware state leaders gathered with friends and  family members of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.

Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long led the ceremony and spoke of the loss felt by so many across the state and around the country.

“We have 2,919, as of today, empty chairs at our kitchen tables, Little League games missed, weddings not ever to be attended,” Hall-Long said.

Despite the loss, she said there have been demonstrations of a strengthening community.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“We have come together through this period with sacrifice, when the community wrapped its arms around all of us, our health systems, hospitals, long term care, our Medical Reserve Corps, [and] the Division of Public Health. And they’ve given us hope through the vaccination and the hope that we have for tomorrow,” Hall-Long said.

That community vaccine effort has led to at least one dose being given to 81% of state residents over the age of 12, while 71% of that group has been fully vaccinated.

For some though, the loss of a loved one came during a time when that final hug wasn’t permitted.

“Sadly, to protect ourselves and each other, we could not say in-person goodbyes to our loved ones who were ill,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the state Division of Public Health. “These are much loved and sadly missed mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and children. And at times, such losses can be almost too much to bear.”

Sharonda Johnson experienced that kind of loss when her father died from COVID-19.

“After my dad died, I thought, how can anyone heal from this depth of pain and brokenness? I honestly don’t think it is possible without divine intervention and lots of mental health support,” Johnson said.

She described how the “COVID community” of others who have experienced similar losses has played a big role in helping her cope.

“When I was at my lowest moments, falling apart, not knowing what to do, I connected with many support groups, one of them, the Yellow Heart Memorial,” she said. “They helped me figure out how to keep going and how to heal… and it’s why I know that these memorials are critical. It takes great courage and leadership to cultivate such a moment for our community.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The Yellow Heart group has hosted memorial services all over the country to remember lives lost to the pandemic. The group also operates a website for loved ones to find support and connect with others who have experienced loss due to COVID.

Get the WHYY app!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal