Newtownabbey Covid victim’s daughter reaches out to pandemic bereaved

At the start of the pandemic the family of Ruth Burke, Newtownabbey, suffered the devastating loss of their mother on March 24 - the first woman to pass away to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland. 

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 7:27 pm

In Strabane, Co. Tyrone, Bredge and Owen Ward would pass away within 12 hours of each other on November 16, 2020. Another family left devastated.

The Ward and Burke families, like so many others who’ve lost loved ones during the pandemic, had no goodbyes. Traditional funerals were restricted, the norms were suspended.

Two families, like thousands linked together by a common loss during the pandemic. 

The Memory Stones of Love on their travels.

Ciaran Ward (son of Bredge and Owen) and Brenda Doherty (daughter of Ruth) came together to discuss ways they could support other families bereaved through Covid-19 while honouring the loss of all the families bereaved during the pandemic, whatever the illness. 

They established a private Facebook group, Support Group for Covid Bereaved NI, a few weeks ago, which has 70 members.

Brenda commented “We wanted to have a local group to help support each other, come together and share our experiences”. 

Those bereaved through Covid-19 have faced similar grief, unable to visit hospitals to hold their loved ones hands, comfort them, no wakes, restricted funerals.

In April the then mayoral team of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Councillor Jim Montgomery and Councillor Noreen McClelland presented Brenda Doherty with a floral wreath in remembrance of all those who have lost their lives during the pandemic.

In some cases unable to touch/carry the coffin, unable to dress their loved ones in their final clothes. After the funeral is over, they have been unable to meet family or friends to comfort each other, tell stories or share in collective grief.  While easing of restrictions are to be welcomed this has added to their grief. There is the constant reminder of Covid-19, while some return to a new normal. For the bereaved of Covid-19 there will never be a normal again. 

They both recognise that so many families have shared experiences no matter how their loved ones past.

Wanting to begin creating a memorial for all the lives lost during the pandemic they established a Facebook page - Memory Stones Of Love.

Ciaran explained: “I was inspired by Rima who lost her brother Rami Samman 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 mum and dad.

“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. 

“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, whatever the illness. 

“To honour our loved ones we inscribed their name onto a stone as a token of love to remember them.  We asked others on our Facebook support group if they’d like us to do the same for their loved ones.  Soon we had over 30 names, in just 10 days, 30 very special people, who have left us during the pandemic. We have names from N Ireland, S Ireland, England, Scotland and the USA.”

“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”.

Ingrid Johnston and Christine Tumilson, said: “The Memory Stones of Love allowed families to feel a real sense of peace, knowing that our dads, two brothers who died within a week of each other are on a further journey together.

“It is extra special as they are travelling to places where they enjoyed making childhood memories. Having to say goodbye to our much loved dads during the pandemic meant we couldn’t celebrate their lives as we would have chosen to. The comfort this project has given us is simply indescribable and we are so grateful to be involved.”

Laura Gribben, whose mum, Carol Dunlop, also died on the March 24, 2020 said: “The Memory Stones of Love is such a simple idea but it has been so comforting to see a stone made for my mum.

“They’ve been made with love and care and are a lovely way to help keep my mum’s memory alive.”

Brenda continued: “We see the Memory Stones of Love as a beginning of a permanent memorial. It is great to see local council districts begin to acknowledge the life’s lost through the pandemic by adding memorials to our towns and cities. 

“We wait in anticipation to see how Stormont will remember all the lives lost, to honour the essential/key workers, community groups and volunteers. We also campaign to have the Forest of Memories here in N Ireland, with trees planted to remember all the life’s lost.”

If you would like your loved one lost during the pandemic remembered, visit the Facebook page - Memory Stones of Love.

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