At the start of the pandemic the family of Ruth Burke, from Newtownabbey, suffered the devastating loss of their mother on March 24, 2020. In Strabane, Co. Tyrone, Bredge and Owen Ward would die within 12 hours of each other on November 16, 2020.
The Ward and Burke families like so many others who’ve lost loved ones during the pandemic had no goodbyes. Traditional funerals were restricted, the norms were suspended.
Brenda Doherty, daughter of Ruth, and Ciaran Ward, son of Bredge and Owen, subsequently came together to discuss ways they could support others bereaved through Covid 19, while honouring the loss of all the families bereaved during the pandemic, whatever the illness. They established a private Facebook group, Support Group for Covid Bereaved NI, which has over 200 members.
Brenda commented "We wanted to have a local group to help support each other, come together and share our experiences."
The group also set up the Memory Stones Of Love project with the names of those who passed away inscribed onto a painted stone as a token of love to remember them.
The Memory Stones of Love, of which there are now over 250, are taken on tour to various locations and will be to the fore at the National Day of Reflection lead event at Belfast City Hall.
Brenda commented: “We see the Memory Stones of Love as a beginning of a permanent memorial. It is great to see that local council districts have acknowledged the life's lost through the pandemic by adding memorials to our towns and cities.
"Recently we hosted an event in Stormont, the response from the MLAs that took time out to see the stones and met with families was positive. We hope in the near future to see our request for a permanent memorial to honour the life’s lost as well as essential/key workers, community groups and volunteers become a reality.”
Ciaran said: “We hope this will provide a comfort to all those lost, that they will be remembered as individuals rather than statistics and that our memory stones will form a part of that. As we move out of this traumatic period a permanent memorial can be used to honour not just those are no longer with us, but to mark the effects the pandemic have had on society as a whole.”
The Memory Stones are currently being exhibited at the Hill of the O’Neill/Ranfurly House, Dungannon. They will be displayed on the lawn at Belfast City Hall from the afternoon of the National Day of Reflection.
The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Tina Black, will host a reception for families at 2.30pm. There will be a candlelight vigil at the front of City Hall at 6.30pm with reflections and music from Steven Hasting who starred in the Voice UK.
A number of bereaved families will share their stories.
Memory Stones of Love will share their future plans as they await the publication of the UK Commission Covid Commemoration report. The group submitted recommendations to the committee in October 2022. As darkness falls, a one-minute silence will be observed as City Hall illuminates yellow.