MIAMI, Fla. – Although hundreds of thousands of families across the nation have had a loved one taken by the coronavirus pandemic, there has been no national reckoning or memorial to acknowledge this tragic loss.
With the COVID-19 death toll in Florida now more than 15,000, including more than 3,000 in MiamiDade County, residents now have a site where they can collectively mourn and honor the lives of loved ones lost: a memorial cemetery at Simonhoff Park in Liberty City.
It is the brainchild of Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson, who partnered with Miami-Dade Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson and the Circle of Brotherhood to erect hundreds of coroplast tombstones on which visitors can write the name of someone they lost to the coronavirus.
“As we have learned in the past several months, no one is completely immune to COVID-19 and the pandemic has affected us all in more ways than one,” said Wilson at the cemetery’s unveiling Oct. 14.
“The luckiest among us have mostly been inconvenienced, but for hundreds of thousands of families across the nation, the pandemic has brought immeasurable loss,” the congresswoman said.
“We chose Liberty City for the memorial cemetery because this pandemic has also exposed inequities that make people of color more vulnerable to COVID-19, many of whom are frontline workers who do not have the luxury of working from home.”
Edmonson noted how the infection rate continues to rise in the state and stressed the need for such a memorial as elected ofﬁcials and others work to stop the spread of the disease.
“Today is a stark reminder of the deadly virus and how many families have been impacted,” said the commissioner, who lost a brother to the coronavirus.
“I could not resist being here because like all of us we are in mourning for the lives that have been lost needlessly by this pandemic,” said Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. “These tombstones are just a portion and reflection of the 3,500 lost right here in Miami-Dade County. It is so important that we take the time to mourn.”
Milton Hall, owner of Hall Ferguson Hewitt Mortuary, witnessed ﬁrsthand the suffering families experienced and had to hire two additional licensed funeral directors and two embalmers to handle a surge in funerals.
“A majority of families couldn’t see their relatives for months and the next time they saw them, they were laying in a funeral home,” Hall said. “It has been a trying time. Death is all around.”
Dwight Jackson, owner of Richardson Funeral Home, said he sometimes directed up to three funerals in one day. He also expressed concern that people who died at home were not accurately represented in the Centers of Disease
Control and Prevention’s tally of coronavirus fatalities because they had not been under a physician’s care.
Rachel Moore, who lost her mother, Patsy Gilreath-Moore to COVID-19 in August, said she was grateful for the opportunity to have her represented at the memorial cemetery. “Mama Moore,” as she was affectionately known in their family, deteriorated after returning home from a hospital stay and had to be on a ventilator for weeks. “People need to understand the aftermath that happens in a family,” Moore said.
Other participants included Kenneth Kilpatrick, president of Brownsville Homeowners Association, on behalf of Florida State Rep. James Bush, III; Rev. Richard Dunn, II, senior pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church, who led the group in prayer; and Rochelle Lightfoot, famously known as the “Sweetheart of Song,” who sang a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
“Today is an opportunity to help people collectively grieve, to name and honor those who have died in a public space of shared mourning,” said Wilson, who plans to create similar tributes.
“I pray that everyone who visits the memorial cemetery will leave it feeling at least a little bit comforted.”