Bay Ridgeites gathered at Shore Road Park on Saturday to memorialize neighbors lost to COVID-19.
The June 12 vigil, organized by community nonprofit Bay Ridge Cares, doubled as a reminder of all that Brooklyn has been through since the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020.
“So many of the family members came up to us and said they didn’t have a funeral,” said Bay Ridge Cares President Karen Tadross. “We planned it so that for the family members in attendance, it was representative of the thing they could not do, which was mourn with their friends, their family, their loved ones.”
The event featured a makeshift memorial, which consisted of about 90 hearts — each with the name of a Ridgeite who died due to COVID-19. All the names on hearts were submitted to Bay Ridge Cares by the loved ones of the deceased.
Close to 200 residents of Bay Ridge’s ZIP code, 11209, were lost to the virus, according to data from the New York Times.
Tadross told Brooklyn Paper that the time felt right for a memorial, even though the city hasn’t yet completely conquered the coronavirus, noting the importance of remembering what the community went through as the city moves on from one of its darkest chapters.
“We felt that we didn’t want to wait until the end of summer, because we didn’t want people to get complacent and forget the amount of loss,” Tadross said. “While there has been tremendous loss, we wanted to give our community hope that things are getting better. So we thought this was the perfect time to do it.”
The ceremony featured orchestral and vocal performances throughout the evening. The names of each loved one submitted were read from a podium, and an LED candle attached to the heart was lit when its corresponding name was read.
“It’s so nice the way they did it. I didn’t think it was gonna be like this, I thought it was gonna be a little kumbayah, and then everybody leaves,” said Alessandra Byer, an attendee who lost both her father and grandmother to the coronavirus. “But they have a quartet, they have singers, they have candles. It’s very nice.”
The ceremony nonetheless was a difficult event for many of those in attendance.
“We’re never gonna get over this,” said Lorraine Nelson, whose husband Artie, a bartender at JJ Bubbles, died of COVID-19 last April. “Everybody’s saying everything’s coming back, it’s the same. It’ll never be the same for us, it’s a hole in your heart that’s never gonna heal.”
The display was only temporary due to Parks Department rules, but Bay Ridge Cares had intended it to be — mourners were encouraged to take their loved ones’ hearts back home with them as a token of remembrance, and the organization will send any unclaimed hearts to those who submitted names but didn’t attend the vigil.
“I got goosebumps, because it’s just so real,” said Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus upon seeing the display of hearts. “It’s something that we’re still coming to terms with, the loss, the grief. We’re still not whole, we’re still remembering the loved ones that we lost, but this is very nice what they’re doing here tonight.”
Other local elected officials in attendance included Councilmember Justin Brannan and state Sen. Andrew Gounardes.
The ceremony was just one of many being held as the city enters a post-COVID reality. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that the city would hold a long-awaited ticker-tape parade for frontline workers, over a year after first promising to do so during the height of the pandemic. That parade, along Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes, is planned for July 7.
Tadross, however, is hoping that Saturday’s memorial is the last Bay Ridge Cares has to do.
“We hope we never have to do another one of these,” she said. “It’s not what Bay Ridge Cares likes to do.”
Additional reporting by Arthur de Gaeta