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Springfield ceremony honors people who died of COVID-19

Paul Tuthill
Gumersindo Gomez of Springfield holds a photograph of Jose Garcia, who died of COVID-19 in 2020 at the age of 84. He participated in the April 20, 2022 remembrance ceremony where almost 500 flameless candles inside white bags lined the steps of City Hall to symbolize each Springfield resident who died since the start of the pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic, close to 500 city residents have died of COVID-19

The city of Springfield, Massachusetts honored people who lost their lives to COVID-19 with a remembrance ceremony Wednesday evening.

Almost 500 flameless candles inside white paper bags lined the front steps of City Hall – one for each of the Springfield residents who died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

During the emotional twilight ceremony, there were acknowledgments of the loss of life and the pain brought on by the pandemic, but also messages of hope, faith and determination to defeat the disease conveyed through speeches, poetry, prayer, and song by Vanessa Ford.

Whether it was the death of a family member, a friend, or a co-worker, no one was untouched said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno.

“We wanted to come together today in remembrance to show kindness, love, passion and compassion that we didn’t forget you,” Sarno said.

At one point, people in the audience were asked to say aloud the name of a loved one who died of COVID-19.

“We’re thinking of you,” Sarno said.

Gumersindo Gomez brought to the ceremony a large framed photograph of Jose Garcia -- his wife’s grandfather, who died of COVID-19 in 2020 at the age of 84. He recounted how the family was allowed to put on protective clothing in the hospital and say their goodbyes.

“I know there are so many people here who did not get that chance,” Gomez said. “That is why we are here for those people who did not have the proper healing.”

Springfield Poet Laureate Magdalena Gomez read the poem “Lessons From Beyond the Veil.”

Remembering and not forgetting are not the same thing.

Sometimes we must walk away.

Sometimes we will return, other times simply just stay.

In a closing prayer, Rev. Bruce Shaw of the New Hope Pentecostal Church asked God to protect the most vulnerable to illness during the coronavirus crisis.

“Bless our Springfield community and its surrounding neighbors.” he said.

Noting that April is Public Health Month, Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton Harris acknowledged the public health professionals who responded to the pandemic by setting up testing sites and vaccination clinics, did contact tracing, and went door-to-door through city neighborhoods to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“The city of Springfield and the Department of Health and Human Services has survived the biggest public health challenge since 1918,” Caulton-Harris said.

Coinciding with the ceremony there was a vaccination clinic on the City Hall esplanade.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.