PHILADELPHIA, PA (October 23, 2020) - On Friday, Oct. 23, 862 empty chairs were displayed on Independence Mall. Each chair represented ten people lost to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. The chairs were set up from 10 am to 6 pm with a remembrance ceremony at 12 pm. The organization, “COVID Survivors for Change,” brought together Americans virtually to honor those who have lost a loved one to COVID-19, as well as those who have survived the virus.
“The last time I talked to my mother on the hospital phone from across the hall in the ICU, I said ‘breathe mom, breath. Fight mom, stay strong, I love you mom,” says Noe Sepulveda, who also was a survivor of COVID-19.
The event amplified the voices of COVID survivors, acknowledged the country’s collective loss, and called for a national plan for recovery. The day was inspired by the National Day of Remembrance in DC on Oct. 4 were 20,000 empty chairs symbolized the over 200,000 lives that were lost to COVID-19. The imagery was powerful and the survivors came together to demand a responsible, data-backed approach to pandemic prevention.
"Some may say that COVID is nothing to be afraid of. Unfortunately, the 240,000 that have perished from it can not hear that message. Some people are tired of COVID. Well, I’m not tired of grieving my mom”, says Bari Himes, whose mother died of COVID-19. Photo Credit: SSM Photography
The ceremony was streamed online. Speakers included:
Chris Kocher, executive director of COVID Survivors for Change. Carol Lewis and Jeff Green: Jeff and Carol’s, Hiram Green, passed away in the Southeastern Veterans’ Center in Allentown, PA. Hiram was 86 and an army veteran who worked as a computer field technician during the Korean War and was proud to be one of the first African Americans working as a technician at the time. Hiram’s wife died days before he did. Bari Himes: Bari’s motherm Rose Phillips, died from COVID-19. Last year, after a years long battle with stage 4 breast cancer, she was declared to be in complete remission. She had a heart-filled laugh and was the best “Ba-bo.” She is terribly missed by all who knew her, and Bari reaches out several times a day to call her and can’t believe she is not here. Bari is a Vice Principal at a school. Noe Sepulveda: Noe is a nurse anesthetist who survived COVID and lost his mother Teresa to COVID after she spent 36 days on a ventilator. Teresa immigrated to the United States when she was in her 20’s and worked as a shoe maker, before retiring to be a “stay home grandmother” to Noe’s three children. Liz Feeney: Elizabeth’s father, Ray Dougherty, died from COVID. Ray, known as “Doc”, was an Army Veteran and a United States Postal Service letter carrier for nearly 40 years. He was married to his childhood sweetheart for 50 years and loved his family deeply. Reverend Fritz Fowler and Reverend Jeffrey Jordan: led the benediction, a short invocation for divine help, blessing and guidance, usually at the end of worship service. Members of Commonwealth Youthchoirs: Commonwealth Youthchoirs is a nonprofit organization with a mission to transform the lives of young people through the power of singing together.
“I travel up and down the east coast in my job as a clinical research associate. And every evening when I would arrive at my destination and settle in the hotel room, I would call mom and dad. When dad would get on the phone, he would say ‘Hello! Where are you?’ Today, I want to tell him, ‘Dad I am in Philadelphia, to honor you, and to tell the world how special you are and how much I love and I miss you,’” says Carol Lewis, whose father died of COVID-19.
Organizers called on our national leaders to do more. This pandemic isn’t over and we will not let its growing number of victims and survivors be forgotten. The event was led by Covid Survivors for Change, a national community of families of victims and survivors who are working together to support each other, share real-life stories so that others can better understand the impacts of the pandemic, and advocate for a stronger pandemic response to help save the lives of others.
“Benjamin Franklin once said, 'justice will not be served until those who are unaffected, are as outraged as those who are.' The United States of America that I know and love is better than this. We are better than this,” says Liz Feeney, who’s mother died of COVID-19.