Student Life Editor
On Monday, March 22, Keene State College held a vigil honoring everything lost due to the pandemic in 2020.
The event ran from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and included vigil lights and members of Keene State College’s community reading the names of people who lost their lives to COVID-19.
Event coordinator and on-campus minister Cindy Cheshire said, “When we were talking about the planning, we’re talking about the luminaries. It seemed like there was something else that needed to be done, and there’s a sort of a blank space like, ‘Okay, and then what?’
And so I said, ‘Well, why don’t we read, we have people read the names?’ And so I knew it was far too many names for us even to get through over the whole event, much less just an hour. And it was too many for one person to do. So I actually realized that was an opportunity to hold more space for communal grief that multiple people could do it. And so I reached out to some campus and community leaders to make that happen.”
Cheshire said this is not her first time running an event like this. She explained, “The idea came from the fact that I did this last semester when we had reached 225,000 deaths. Not exactly this, but I did a commemoration of it. And so, now that we’ve hit half a million more than that– I think [KSC President] Melinda [Treadwell] told me [it’s] 520,000 [deaths] right now, and we’re around the [one] year mark. I didn’t want to let that pass.”
Communal grief was a focus point of the event and calming music was played from a speaker in front of the L.P. Young Student Center while vigils marked with what was lost lined Appian Way.
Cheshire said, “To have shared spaces of grief; to be able to grieve individually, first of all, but also as a community. And that’s [something] we’ve really lost over the course of the pandemic. We don’t have funerals like we used to. We don’t have those rituals of grieving that are really important… I wanted to give an opportunity for the campus community to have a held space that was open for individual grief, but also communal grief to just to acknowledge, like, we’re all aware, every day, of the things that we have lost, whether that’s a person or routine or a job or normalcy. Whatever that looks like, we’re all aware of that. But if we take a second and recognize it together, that’s important.”
A worldwide pandemic like the COVID-19 pandemic can impact personal lives in a multitude of ways. Cheshire explained how the pandemic affected her, “I mean, it’s changed everything. It’s been, in some ways, a slowdown that I would like to say I didn’t realize I needed but I fully knew I needed to slow down. And so it’s been a welcomed slowdown, I guess. But it’s also been extremely difficult. I have two small kids, both of whom are in special education services and having to, overnight, transform into not only their full-time caretaker and advocate, and– and everything else that parents normally do, [but] also becoming their primary educator, their special educator, doing all their therapies at home. And also helping them through this massive emotional experience that I don’t have any experience with. The closest thing I can relate it to is when I was in high school and 9/11 happened, and that earth shattering sort of feeling. Similarly, I work in care on campus, I provide spiritual care to the campus community. So I’ve heard from a lot of very freaked out students and staff and faculty [and] all, so it’s been a big year of caring and compassion and just everything being turned on its head.”
Keene State first-year Logan Steadman described how his year had changed throughout the pandemic. Steadman said, “I feel like a completely different person honestly. I’ve gotten a lot lazier… the biggest thing was when my grandfather died, I believe, a couple of weeks after I graduated, he was living down in Rhode Island at the time. He was old, he had Alzheimer’s at the time so he’s in an elderly home. And COVID eventually leaked [down there]. And then he died.”
Keene State sophomore Sydney Litchfield said, “COVID was extremely bad for me. My grandmother passed away from it earlier this year, so I did my bag in remembrance of her… It wasn’t expected at all, you can’t prepare for anything like that so it’s hard to cope with.”
Another student viewing the vigil was Keene State sophomore Eric Silverman Jr. Silverman said, “My mom lost her godmother to COVID-19.
She suffered for three months, [then] passed away about a few weeks ago. She was lifelong friends with my grandmother, basically day-one friends and always hang[ing] out together. When this pandemic hit it was hard for her because she has Alzheimer’s so she’s struggling to keep up with people, and she was one of those lifelong friends and she always wanted to visit even when she was in the hospital and, well, she’s gone now. She always followed the protocols. She always did everything right– just she got unlucky. Unfortunately, my father also caught the virus in March when this all started. He got very ill and I got seriously scared of him dying which is the closest I think I’ve [ever] seen my father near [to] death. He wasn’t in a hospital on a ventilator budget. I’ve never seen him that sick and it scared the daylights out of me.”
Silverman also offered some of the coping mechanisms he used throughout the pandemic. He said, “Honestly, reading, listening to music, writing– I have a journal that I started when this all began and [I wrote] just kind of day-by-day stories and– you know, I don’t talk about it often just because it’s personal stuff, just my thoughts about what’s going on and, you know, it’s therapeutic in a way just to have that account. It’s also something that I can look back on in 20, 30 years and be like ‘Oh yeah, I lived through a pandemic– cool.’ And even just reconnecting with friends because I had all this time to just sit down– I mean, granted, on Zoom, but it was so nice to reach out and talk to them… It was nice and brought an extra value to friendships that I don’t think a lot of people really understood until you [were basically] told you can’t see anybody.”
Lastly, Silverman said, “Just stick through it, please. Just– please– because the sooner that we get through this all collectively instead of trying to do it individually, we’ll actually be back to normal and hopefully we can all look back on this and say, ‘You know, we got lucky. We didn’t lose anyone, we weren’t hurt too bad.’ But for those who have been hurt, [my] sympathies go out to all of you. I just know we’re all gonna get through this one way or another. Light is at the end of the tunnel– [we’re] almost there so when you get that chance to get vaccinated, please do.”
Tim Wagner can be contacted at: