“I think we have to grieve. I don’t think we pause to grieve loss very well as a species,” said President of Keene State College Melinda Treadwell when she participated in the Coronavirus Remembrance Event on November 2.
“We just wanted to give our campus community a chance to have some public grief and public mourning for the fact that we have lost over a quarter of a million people to coronavirus so far. That’s a huge amount of people and our country hasn’t given a chance to commemorate that loss,” said Cindy Cheshire who serves KSC as the Campus Minister through the Newman Center.
Cheshire, who contracted the virus in May herself, shared her experience saying it was very scary. She said, “I can only imagine what it would have been if I have needed to be hospitalized or even worse, if it was one of my family members, then I had to stay home knowing how sick they were and not being able to be with them. It’s just so hard on so many levels for everyone that it touched.”
Cheshire further said, “It [the event] is really important because humans are hardwired to be connected to one another and, in the pandemic, we are already feeling disconnected from one another and the ultimate disconnection is death. So when we have disconnect on top of disconnect, it’s really hard. It goes against everything that we are hardwired to do.”
Cheshire who was the person behind the idea also led the event on the cold and windy Monday. Cheshire tabled on the Student Center Lawn from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. where drop-in attendees could write the names on canvas of anyone they had lost over this year due to coronavirus. The table also had color coded flowers and participants were invited to reflect on how they were feeling about the pandemic. The flowers corresponded to emotions like “sadness”, “hope”, “anger”, “caution” and “a little bit of everything”. Based on what emotions the participants wanted to honor, they got a flower that they could plant around the table.
KSC Junior Allison Jones stopped by the table as she was curious and loved flowers. Jones planted two flowers: one that signified a “little bit of everything” and the other for “cautious.” She said, “honestly that’s how I feel all the time, just like a mix of all the emotions, I also did one for cautious because, as a teacher, I have to be really cautious with my students and with myself in general to keep my students safe and keep myself safe because that’s a bigger responsibility than just me.”
Cheshire said that there were a lot of gatherings that provided the opportunity for people to work through grief and loss after 9/11. “There hasn’t been anything like this for coronavirus, so I was thinking about it again and again and then I remembered about ‘All Souls Day’,” said Cheshire, “That [All Souls Day] is when we celebrate the lives of the people who have died over the past year.”
Cheshire said that she knew it was going to be windy, however, she did not realize how windy the day was going to be. She said, “I also can’t change that this is All Souls Day. It’s not tomorrow or yesterday, so here we are.”
Cheshire was also assisted by Coordinator of LGBTQ students support Hunter Kirschner during the day for tabling. Kirschner said that, even though it was a cold and windy day, they had a nice steady stream of engagements all from students, staff and faculty. He further said, “They are coming up and chatting a bit, reflecting themselves, and collecting the flower, writing on the canvas the folks that they have lost.”
Jones thinks the event is important to get everyone feeling that they are not alone, “Especially with how isolated everything is right now, it can be really easy to feel like nobody gets this, but when you look at all the flowers, it’s like there is multiple of every color so, like, nobody is just singled out. It’s nice to be able to visualize and see, even though there is nobody with me here right now, I can still see that people are feeling the same way that I am feeling.”
Kirschner said that the real hallmark of our campus is that sense of community that we have. He further said, “Having this opportunity to engage somewhat be visible in terms of flowers, I know for me it’s very grounded and it makes me feel less alone.”
President Treadwell said, “It’s important for us to pause, particularly, in a hectic uncertain time, to pause, reflect and just remember the consequence of this virus right now in our world.”
She said that it is important to pause, “not so because we become debilitated, but we become empowered and we become more resilient because we recognize the loss and recognize the importance of reconnecting ourselves to each other, that is our mission and that is essential for us. I feel like this, although a small event, is very impactful.”
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