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Yellow Heart Memorial Honors COVID-19 Victims

Irving—The 2022 Yellow Heart Memorial was presented at the Levy Event Plaza in Irving on Friday, Jan. 21. This memorial honored the lives of COVID-19 victims with 200 luminary bags, placed around a heart made of yellow roses. Each bag sported a name, date of passing and message for a specific person.

The Yellow Heart Memorial was founded by Rosie Davis, who lost her mother, Mary Castro, to COVID-19 on May 17, 2020. Davis was not able to visit her mom in the hospital or call her on FaceTime before she passed. Davis’ family was not able to choose whether they wanted to bury or cremate Castro. Due to the concern she could still be contagious, Castro had to be cremated.

“We didn’t have any control over any decisions that were made from the time she left the nursing home to the time she got to the hospital,” Davis said. “The honorable things that should have been done to memorialize my mom, none of that was done. I had to make it my mission to make sure my mom’s death was not in vain, and my mom was remembered as a person and not a number.”

Last year, Davis created a memorial at the Irving Archives and Museum. To individualize the people being honored, Davis printed out 200 portraits of COVID-19 victims to represent the 200,000 deaths that had occured at the time. The portraits were created by a young artist from New Jersey.

Hannah Ernst, 17, lost her grandfather to COVID-19 near the beginning of the pandemic. He was an artist, who inspired her own interest in art. After he passed, Ernst created a digital portrait of his silhouette. Her mom posted it online, and soon other people requested portraits of their loved ones.

“At that time, there were so many people who didn’t understand the severity of the virus,” Ernst said. “Seeing your loved one be individualized from the pandemic they’ve been erased by, I think really brought a means of remembrance.”

Ernst began the Faces of COVID Victims in August of 2020. Around this time, Davis reached out to request a portrait of her mother. Some portraits were displayed during the Yellow Heart Memorial.

“I’m so grateful for [Davis] and her idea,” Ernst said. “I love doing my digital art and having my Facebook page that I think brings community to people who need it. [But] especially in this time of need, I think there’s a more physical approach to what she does. I think the Yellow Heart Memorial is an absolutely incredible venture.”

The Yellow Heart Memorial Facebook group has nearly 3,000 members. The organization has ten chapters across the U.S., but has recently made international connections with the addition of a chapter in Poland. Along with adding new members and chapters, Davis is focused on creating permanent memorials for COVID-19 victims.

Davis is grateful for the temporary memorials she created in Irving, but permanent memorials are even more important. The first permanent memorial is in Jefferson County, MO. She feels long-term memorials are important, because they will allow future generations to learn about the people who were affected by this pandemic.

“It’s been our mission to make sure these families have space to grieve,” Davis said. “We’ve built a community where we all understand each other. We all understand the COVID loss. We understand this is something that is going to be recorded in history.”

Although the memorial at the Levy Event Center is temporary, it provided a place for people to remember their loved ones and share their stories. A few families of COVID-19 victims spoke at the event in honor of their loved ones. One person who spoke was Virginia Beach, who lost her mother in September 2020. Her mom, Maria Esther Orona, married her husband at a young age and had 14 children with Beach being the youngest.

Beach joined the Yellow Heart Memorial Facebook group a few weeks after its creation. She said the event allowed people to remember those who passed away from COVID-19 as individuals instead of statistics.

“They continue to be alive every time we do something like this,” Beach said. “Every time we say their name [and] every time we tell their story, they’re alive. We bring honor to them like they deserve.”

On the same night, all of the chapters put out luminary bags. A total of 800 luminary bags were lit to represent the over 800,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

“I am glad we’ve provided a space [to grieve] because the space I needed when my mom passed away did not exist,” Davis said. “I’m really glad my team and I can provide these memorials, and we can keep this going. We’ve kind of laid the path for other people who are losing loved ones.”