Memories set in stones for Covid bereaved in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland families who have been bereaved during the pandemic are keeping memories of their loved ones alive with a collection of painted stones.
The Memory Stones of Love are taken on tour to various locationsThe Memory Stones of Love are taken on tour to various locations
The Memory Stones of Love are taken on tour to various locations

The idea came about after a support group was set up by Brenda Doherty from Newtownabbey and Ciaran Ward from Strabane, both of whom lost parents last year.

Brenda’s mother Ruth Burke died on March 24 and is understood to be the first woman to pass away from Covid-19 in Northern Ireland

Ciaran’s family suffered a double tragedy when his mum and dad – Bredge and Owen – died within 12 hours of each other on November 16.

Brenda said: “Our families, like so many others who’ve lost loved ones during the pandemic, had no goodbyes. Traditional funerals were restricted, the norms were suspended.”

Ciaran and Brenda came together to discuss ways they could support other families bereaved due to coronavirus, while honouring the loss of all those bereaved during the pandemic, whatever the illness.

They established a private Facebook support group and through it another page was born – ‘Memorial Stones of Love’.

Ciaran said: “I was inspired by a lady called Rima Samman who lost her brother Rami to Covid 19 in Belmar, New Jersey. I saw a Facebook post were Rima created a Covid-19 memorial of the names of those lost during the pandemic enclosed in yellow hearts. I contacted Rima to add mum and dad’s names.

“New Jersey was a special place for them. In 2002 while I was working in New York at JFK Airport they came to visit me, attending the St Patrick’s Day parade. We visited New Jersey and it meant a lot that they were honoured on the Jersey Shore. Their stone was even shared on the New York news channel.”

Ciaran continued: “Brenda and I spoke to Rima and her husband Travis via Zoom to share experiences.

We were humbled to learn our experiences were so similar, Covid 19 has no boundaries and has affected every corner of the world. Shortly after my sister Marie painted the first stones to remember the names of all those lost during the pandemic.”

Through the Facebook group Brenda and Ciaran asked people if they’d like a stone designed for their loved ones. Within 10 days they had 30 names.

Brenda said: “Memory Stones of Love has flourished to remember not just the names, but their love, hobbies, interests and through them the love we have to honour our loved ones.

“The memory stones have started to go on tour. We intend to travel around different locations in Northern Ireland so families can come along and visit them.”

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