#NamingTheLost Laments Covid-19 Victims

When the Covid-19 pandemic initially hit New York, 62-year-old physician Dr. James A. Mahoney was given a choice to retire after his four decades of service. He refused.

Instead, he worked day shifts at the University Hospital in Brooklyn, where he trained as a student in 1982.  At night, he worked across the street at the Kings County Hospital Center, attending to patients, going from bed to bed, insisting on being at the side of anyone who needed him. When not at work, Dr. Mahoney ran telemedicine consultations and advised patients to wash their hands and wear a mask. According to the New York Times, James had served in the frontlines for AIDS, the crack epidemic, 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Hurricane Sandy. Although friends, family, and patients begged him to take a break during the current pandemic, he chose to be at work, protecting patients’ lives.

In the second week of April, he texted his boss, Dr. Robert F. Foronjy, that he had a fever. A week later he died, surrounded by five colleagues who were escorting him from Brooklyn to Tisch Hospital in Manhattan, hoping to save his life.

“One of the sad stories of this pandemic is that we’re losing people that we couldn’t afford to lose,” Dr. Foronjy said to NYT.

Dr. Mahoney is one of the 92,098 people (currently) who have died in the U.S. from Covid-19. His name, among thousands others, will be read aloud at #NamingTheLost – a 24-hour vigil that will honor the memories of those lost during the pandemic, seeking to humanize the rising death count.

The event brings together faith leaders and people who have lost family and friends to the virus from across the country for a collective grieving. To honor the diverse faith backgrounds of the people who have died, faith leaders will read out scriptures from across spiritual traditions, while others will be reciting poetry and sharing ways to meditate. #NamingTheLost will begin at 2 p.m. EST on Wednesday, May 20 and end at the same time next day on Thursday, May 21.

“We’ve lost so many people and yet, as a nation, we do not have a space to publicly lament in grief together,” says Reverend Jennifer Bailey, founder of Faith Matters Network, and one of the organizers of the vigil. “Behind every number and statistic there is a personal story of a human being who had a life and loved ones. This is in honor of their memory. The notion of honoring one’s memory, of remembering, of calling the names of those who have crossed the path is true across religious traditions.”

Rev. Jennifer is an associate minister for the Greater Bethel AME Church in Nashville, TN, and is ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Helping people heal and cope with loss and grief is a part of her job, and as the epicenter of the pandemic moves towards Cook County, IL, home to her family and close friends, the sense of loss is becoming deeply personal.

A few weeks ago, one of Rev. Jennifer’s closest friends lost her mother to Covid-19. As she helped her friend navigate the hospital, it triggered memories of losing her own mother four years ago to a 15-year cancer battle. During her mother’s last days, Rev. Jennifer served as one of her primary caretakers and was by her side when she took her last breath.

One of the heartbreaking moments of the pandemic is that most families cannot see their loved ones as they battle the virus in their deathbeds. So, for Rev. Jennifer, the need for a space to collectively grieve does not only stem from her role of pastoral care but is rooted in her lived human experience.

“The feeling of collective grief and lament is one I identify and empathize deeply with,” says Rev. Jennifer. “When grief is not attended to, when it’s allowed to fester, when it’s suppressed, it leads to unhealthy behavior patterns. This vigil is a powerful invitation for us all to center that grief, and to center the names, lives, and experiences of the people we’ve lost.”

If you’d like to join #NamingTheLost, you can sign up here.

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.