As part of the Beacon of Hope ceremony on Monday June 15th, community member, Reverend Kurt Walker, joined WaterFire artists, Melanie Steinbrecher and Barnaby Evans to celebrate and remember forty-six lives lost to COVID-19 who were members of the Orchard View Manor nursing home community in East Providence.
Staff member, Melanie Steinbrecher, reflects on the evening…
It has been quite a unique experience working for WaterFire during these changing times, and I think one of the most interesting and special things to have come from all this is the Beacon of Hope. During this time I have made sure to keep in touch with my family and especially my mother, Carol, who is a minister in Massachusetts. I told her about the Beacon of Hope and what we were trying to accomplish in creating it, and she was very intrigued and supportive of the idea from the start. As it grew and more people heard about it, my mother told me she had shared the story of the Beacon of Hope with her friend, Rev. Kurt Walker, who is a minister in Rhode Island. She said Kurt was immediately familiar with it and that he had even been watching some of the ceremonies. It had touched him because he had lost a fairly large number of people from a nursing home community he would visit and hold services with. For the past 3 years, Rev. Kurt would hold a communion service at Orchard View Manor in East Providence, and when everything happened he was told to stay away for the safety of the residents. It wasn’t until one day when he decided to call the nursing home to check up on everyone that he realized just how bad the outbreak had been for them. The staff member who picked up the phone told him they had lost over 30 residents in just a couple of weeks, and now this number has unfortunately grown to 46 residents lost.
When my mother told me about Kurt’s situation, I shared it with the rest of the WaterFire staff, and Barnaby seemed particularly interested in the story and wanted to pursue it further by inviting Kurt to join him in a ceremony one night. At first when I was setting up this ceremony with Kurt I wasn’t necessarily planning on joining him in participating, but as we corresponded about the night I started to feel much more involved and connected to this particular ceremony. It was so special to be able to give this opportunity to Kurt and the residents of Orchard View, and I am so glad I was able to be a part of it.
An excerpt from Rev. Kurt Walker’s reflection prior to the ceremony:
Thus far, the global death toll is over four hundred thousand people. There have been over one hundred and twenty thousand deaths thus far in the United States and nearly a thousand deaths in the State of Rhode Island.
Many of these deaths are attributed to our elderly; those with whom our society has been given the tremendous responsibility to care for in their final days of life. Before the pandemic hit, residents and families alike would look forward to reuniting over weekend visits and holiday meals. There were birthday parties, anniversaries celebrated, and visits from pastors and pet therapists.
Following the onset of the virus in March and the pursuant lockdown of all nursing facilities, residents have been isolated from everyone from family, to friends who are also fellow residents. Families have been told to stay away. Gone were the visits and the vital aspects of connecting with loved ones.
In the interim, our elderly have been hopelessly dying. As of the writing of this reflection, there have been eight hundred twenty three deaths as a result of the virus. Of those 823 deaths, the vast majority of them have been in our nursing facilities. The forty-six luminaria we light this evening are in memory of those residents and staff who have died in just one facility, Orchard View Manor in East Providence. They have died without proper mourning and left families and loved ones in a seemingly hopeless state of endless grief and sorrow, not having been able to offer a proper ‘good-bye.’
I had watched a few of the ceremonies on my TV at home, but it was quite different to be there experiencing everything in person. I remember when he arrived one of the first things Rev. Kurt said was,
And it truly was. The sense of sorrow coupled with a warm comfort when gazing at the flickering lights of the luminaria was unlike anything I had experienced before. Even more impressive and special was being able to hear Barnaby’s reasonings behind all of the intricate details of the ceremony and to hear him talk about what everything represented.
Rev. Kurt Walker’s reflection after participating in the ceremony:
When I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in WaterFire’s artistic installation titled ‘Beacon of Hope,’ I was immediately thankful for the chance to provide closure for the families, friends, and healthcare workers of the forty six residents and employees who have thus far lost their lives as a result of COVID-19. To grant them the occasion to memorialize their loved ones in an environment that has prevented us from mourning our dead, my prayerful hope was that they would find some solace in this remembrance of their presence in their lives and to recognize that their light still shines in the darkness.
Performing the ritual with the creator of this installation, Barnaby Evans was wonderful. As I listened to his instructions prior to the lighting of the luminaria, I was reminded of the rituals of the Church in which we pause to take a moment to remember not only the death of a loved one, in this case, someone we’ve never met, but to remember their light from the moment of their conception, their childhood, their young adulthood, and their waning years. It’s so very important to remember, as best we are able, the completeness of a life well lived, for there is no death for one well remembered.
The experience of lighting the luminaria left me feeling complete. It gave me solace and closure. I pray the same is true for loved ones watching from home.