Day of Remembrance focuses on the lives lost – and saved – during this global pandemic

April 14, 2021
A chaplain shown in profile against a backdrop of stained glass windows in a church
Rev. Herman "Frank" Harris shares an opening prayer during MUSC's Day of Remembrance celebration. Photos by Sarah Pack

As the warm glow of sunlight filtered in through the colorful stained-glass windows of St. Luke’s Chapel, dozens of Medical University of South Carolina employees gathered to honor the lives lost to COVID-19. 

During the hour-long Day of Remembrance ceremony – which was livestreamed on Microsoft Teams – nearly a dozen people got up and spoke, recited poetry or played music as a way of honoring the memories of those who have died as a result of the devastating pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 9,000 South Carolinians. 

MUSC Health CEO Pat Cawley, M.D., spoke about a former patient who was hospitalized with COVID at MUSC for more than four months. In the end, he would be discharged – a ray of light in an otherwise sobering and somber year. 

“But he told me when you experience loss – whether it’s the loss of a life or the loss of a moment – it requires a journey,” Cawley said. “So today, as we talk about loss, just know that we’re all on this journey together.”

Medical intensive care unit nurse manager Janet Byrne, R.N., who also served as the COVID-19 ICU nurse manager, underscored that point, remarking that – before COVID-positive patients were allowed to have in-person visitors – nursing staff members took on way more than they ever could have imagined when they got into health care.

“Whether they were holding a hand or an iPad for a family member, somebody was always there for them at the end,” she said.

A collage of four photos, one of people sitting in a church, one of a woman signing a mural, one of a woman speaking at the pulpit and one of a woman holding rosemary and a program 
Top left, clockwise, attendees listen; Britt Bates writes a message on the mural; a woman holds rosemary and a program; medical student Rachel Kaye reads a poem about her grandfather.

Heather Woolwine, director of Public Affairs, Media Relations and Presidential Communications, spoke on behalf of President David Cole, M.D., FACS, who fittingly couldn’t attend because he was in surgery caring for a patient, and first lady Kathy Cole. 

“Grandparents. Neighbors. Siblings. Coworkers,” she began, sharing their heartfelt sentiments. “When you move beyond the data and statistics associated with this pandemic, what you realize is that every single death, every single case, is a human being whose loss is felt deeply by those who are left behind.”

Interspersed throughout the 60-minute ceremony, MUSC music therapists performed songs by Eric Clapton, Maroon 5 and Andra Day. Third-year medical student Rachel Kaye bravely stood to read a poem she wrote about her grandfather, who succumbed to COVID. She spoke of his love of Paris, magic tricks and sports. How he escaped from the Holocaust and became an artist. She spoke of a legacy that will live on forever in those who knew him best. A human, not a statistic.

After the ceremony, Pet Therapy and Arts in Healing teams buoyed spirits with lovable dogs to pet and a mural to be signed in honor of loved ones lost. The Urban Farm staff wanted to show their support, offering sunflower seeds, which could be planted in dirt and taken home to be put into the ground, an eternal reminder of somebody special. 

Resilience expert Alyssa A. Rheingold, Ph.D., director of clinical operations at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center within the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, closed the ceremony with one final thought: “These lives lost have a rippling effect on our community. That’s why it’s important to create space like today for our friends and family to take time to honor them and recognize their impact on the world around them.”