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As the artistic director of the Well desk, I have spent the last year searching for images that reflect the devastation of the pandemic and the heartache it has caused. As the crisis dragged on, I thought about all the people who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 – not to mention those who have lost loved ones, period – and how they have been cut off. usual gatherings and mourning. Watching the numbers increase every day, it was easy to lose sight of the people behind the statistics. I wanted to find a way to humanize the death toll and restore visibility to those who had died.
To help our readers honor the lives of those who lost their lives during the pandemic, we have decided to ask them to submit photographs of items that remind them of their loved ones. The responses have been overwhelming, capturing the love, sorrow and remembrance. We have heard from children, spouses, siblings, grandchildren and friends – people who have lost loved ones not only to Covid-19, but to all kinds of causes. What united them was their inability to cry together, in person.
Dani Blum, Well’s senior news assistant, spent hours talking with each person over the phone. “This is the most difficult reporting I have ever done, but I really feel honored to be able to tell these stories,” she said. “What struck me most listening to all these stories was how much joy there was in remembering those who died, even in the midst of so many tragedies. Many of those conversations would start in tears and end with people laughing as they tell me a joke that the person they lost would tell, or their favorite happy memory with them.
The photographs and personal stories, published digitally as an interactive feature, were designed by Umi Syam and titled “What Loss Looks Like”. Among the stories we uncovered: A wedding ceremony lasso symbolizes the indestructible bond between a mother and father, both lost to Covid-19 and mourned by their children. A ceramic zebra figurine reminds a woman of her best friend, who died after saying goodbye. A gold bracelet that once belonged to a father never leaves her daughter’s wrist as she desperately needs any connection to her memory.
For those left behind, these items are tangible daily reminders of those who are gone. These possessions take up space and tell a story. Spend time with them and you begin to feel the weight of their importance, the impact and the memory of what they represent.
Museums have long presented artefacts as a link to the past. The same is true of The New York Times, which published a 2015 photo report of items collected from and around the World Trade Center on September 11. In launching this project, we heard from several artists who, in their own work, have explored the connection between objects and loss.
Shortly after Hurricane Sandy, Elisabeth Smolarz, an artist from Queens, began work on “The Encyclopedia of Things,” which examines loss and trauma through personal objects. Kija Lucas, an artist based in San Francisco, has been photographing artifacts for the past seven years, exhibiting her work in her project “The Museum of Sentimental Taxonomy”.
“Saved: Objects of the Dead” is a 12-year project by artist Jody Servon and poet Lorene Delany-Ullman, in which photographs of personal items of deceased loved ones are paired with prose to explore. the human experience of life, death and memory. And authors Bill Shapiro and Naomi Wax have spent years interviewing hundreds of people and asking them questions about the most meaningful single object in their lives, collating their stories in the book “What We Keep.”
As the pandemic continues to take hold of the country, Well’s office will continue to fight the large-scale grief it leaves in its wake. Other features on this topic include resources for those who are grieving, grief associated with smaller losses, and how grief affects physical and psychological health. As for “What is the loss like,” we are keeping the caption open, inviting more readers to submit items of importance, expand and expand this virtual memorial, and provide a common mourning space.