SCITUATE – More than 3,500 Rhode Islanders died from COVID over the past two years, and with the pandemic making it nearly impossible to hold a funeral for many, Scituate’s Fred Faria is bringing the flag memorial “Rhode Island Remembers COVID-19” to the Statehouse.
Faria said it echoes the original project “In America: Remember” by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg that installed more than 600,000 white flags in Washington D.C. in 2021 to represent each of the American lives lost due to COVID.
In Rhode Island, the total dead from the virus is more than 3,500, Faria said.
Running from June 25 to July 2, Faria and volunteers will install 3,590 flags on the front lawn of the Statehouse to give Rhode Islanders a place to reflect and mourn people who died. The display will also show milestone numbers of deaths Rhode Island reached during the pandemic.
At one point, Rhode Island hit 500 deaths every six months, and still has 2-3 deaths from COVID-19 per day, Faria said. He said he collects his data from the Rhode Island Department of Health.
“With the number of deaths we had, and since we could not attend services with them, I want to give people a place to grieve, share stories of their lost loved ones, and allow them to reflect,” Faria said.
Firstenberg is donating 5,000 flags to Rhode Island for the project. The extra flags will be distributed to anyone who wishes to write a story or share a name of a lost loved one, and place it at the Statehouse. Once the memorial ends, written flags will be collected and archived at the Smithsonian Museum.
The installation and blessing of the flags is at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 25, which coincides with the COVID memorial WaterFire in Providence.
There will also be a closing ceremony on July 2 at 7 p.m. where first responders from Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns can pick up their corresponding number of flags for each death experienced in their municipality.
“At the end, each town can take their flags to memorialize our lost loved ones on a local level,” Faria said.
The Rhode Island project will be manned by members of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches to assist in grief counseling during the day.
Faria said the response from state and local governments is very positive, which to him proves the need for it.
“People have not grieved for this here yet. During COVID, they were so isolated. Thousands of people died and they couldn’t do anything. When these people were suffering, you couldn’t hold their hand, you couldn’t see them. It’s important to recognize what happened,” Faria said.
Faria donated his time and money to set up the event, and said he is looking for more volunteers and sponsors. To help, contact Faria at 401-828-5355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.