At 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 19, the bell of The Broad Bay Congregational Church in Waldoboro rang 100 times in memory of Maine residents who have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Church Pastor Nancy Duncan responded to a call for a national commemoration of COVID-19 victims and decided to join the Broad Bay bell with all the other bells that would be ringing out across the country. She added luminaries as a visual reminder of the number of lives lost.
Meanwhile in Wiscasset, a group of about 20 volunteers lined Main Street Tuesday night, memorializing the more than 500 Mainers who have died with COVID-19.
The Wiscasset drive-by event was inspired by a nationwide memorial on Tuesday, part of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration activities, but organizer Kelli Whitlock Burton, of Waldoboro, said that she felt compelled to hold a memorial regardless.
“We are still in the throes of the pandemic, but it’s important to come together and mourn those we’ve lost, to show our support for the families and loved ones they left behind, and to remind everyone why we must persevere in our efforts to curb COVID-19 by wearing masks, socially distancing, and getting vaccinated as soon as we are eligible,” she said.
Whitlock Burton said it’s also important to show support for health care workers who have lost hundreds of patients to the coronavirus. “They’re grieving too,” she said.
Duncan and the members of her Waldoboro congregation were similarly inspired. “It seemed really important to recognize the incredible toll that COVID has taken, and with physical distance restrictions, the chance to be outside and together was also really important,” Duncan said.
Duncan turned to her neighbors for help. She asked the Broad Bay Cafe, the Waldo Theatre, the Waldoboro Public Library, and Hall Funeral Home to participate. “They all said yes with alacrity,” Duncan said.
The church provided candles and Broad Bay Cafe donated paper bags. Church member Evelyn Clowes wrote the numbers on the bags — 516 deaths in Maine as of that morning.
“We wanted to participate with the national memorial,” Jonathan Clowes said. “It’s been a terribly difficult year. People have died — many who didn’t expect to. Their families are missing them.”
“Mourning is hard for America,” Evelyn Clowes added. “This vigil will help the country mourn.”
Duncan had been concerned about the logistics involved. “I didn’t know how many people it would take to set up and light the luminaries — the number was just so large,” she said.
But volunteers came at 3 p.m. and, according to Evelyn Clowes, “they just kept showing up, spreading out the luminaries, lighting the candles. It happened rather gracefully.”
In Wiscasset, volunteers including Whitlock Burton and co-organizers Terry Heller, Tom Eichler, and Wendy Ross held signs marking the number of COVID-19 deaths in each of Maine’s counties, as well as the state and nation. “I am moved by how many people, from all across our country, came together to do this,” Whitlock Burton said.
This is likely not the last COVID-19 memorial that Americans will have to hold, she said. The number of deaths across the country had already climbed by the time she finished making her signs.
As the afternoon light faded in Waldoboro, the luminaries glowed. The white bags, each with a bit of sand to stabilize them, were placed like dominoes in long lines on either side of the street with a cluster occurring naturally in the church yard.
The bags were not in numerical order, but positioned randomly in lines and groupings. Jonathan Clowes said that the lack of order reflected the diversity of the victims. Cars rolled by slowly. And Sam Scheuzger, the third generation in his family to ring the Broad Bay bell, prepared to send peals of music out into the night.