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How We Mourn Covid’s Victims

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LONDON — Piece by piece, the Covid-19 sanctuary was born on a hilltop in the town of Bedworth in central England. The process was meant to be a metaphor for a human life. Like bones fused over time, it grew taller as the memorial’s creators spent months joining intricate pieces of wood into a skeletal structure that finally stood on its own, 65 feet high.

Then they burned it all down.

There have always been monuments to commemorate the loss of life from calamitous events, such as the thousands of memorials dedicated to world wars, the Sept. 11 attacks, the Holocaust.

But the Covid-19 pandemic, now in its third year, has presented a unique challenge for grieving families. It is not a singular event, in one location. As the death toll of more than six million worldwide continues to rise, communities and families are trying to keep up, building memorials at the same time that the tragedy is unfolding, its end not yet written.

New monuments are being installed. Old projects are expanding. Photographs and biographies of Covid-19 victims in Malaysia and South Africa are updated online. Landscapes in villages and cities are transformed by remembrance, from a waist-high structure in Rajannapet, India, to spinning pinwheels fixed along a walkway in São Paulo, Brazil.

Names are painted on a wall along the River Thames in London and on rocks arrayed in hearts on a farm in New Jersey. Thousands of fluttering flags were planted at the Rhode Island State House. Ribbons are tied to a church fence in South Africa.

“People died alone in hospitals, or their loved ones could not even see them or hold their hands, so maybe some of these memorials have to do with a better send-off,” said Erika Doss, a University of Notre Dame professor who studies how Americans use memorials.

“We really do need to remember, and we need to do it now,” Dr. Doss said. “Covid isn’t over. These are kind of odd memorials in that names are being added. They are kind of fluid. They are timeless.”

It is not easy for the builders of these memorials to capture death. It is elusive and vast, like the airborne virus that claimed lives and left the question of how to make a physical manifestation out of a void.

For the builders of the sanctuary in Bedworth, a former coal mining town, the answer was to turn away from their communal artistry of nearly 1,000 carvings of pine and birch arches, spires and cornices, and to reduce it to ash at sunset on May 28.

What the moment needed, one organizer said, was an event of catharsis and rebirth, in which people who had seen the sanctuary standing can now go back and see it gone.

“It will still be there in their mind,” Helen Marriage, a producer of the project, said. “Feel the emptiness, which is the same way you feel with this dead, loved person.”

Over a year after it started, new names are still being added to the thousands scrawled on hearts painted on a wall along the River Thames in London.

A walk along its nearly half-mile stretch shows how death gutted generations and left few countries untouched. Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish and Urdu are among the languages in messages to “Grandpa,” “Mum,” “Daddy,” “Nana.”

Uncle Joshua. My brother. My first friend.

Their authors tried to understand death. “Angel wings gained too soon” was how someone described Sandra Otter’s death on Jan. 30, 2021. “Keep on Rocking” was the message to Big Pete.

The virus claimed neighbors, comedians and drinking buddies, their stories told in marker on the wall. Dr. Sanjay Wadhawan “gave his life saving others.” Cookie is “still remembered at the post office.” To all London “cabbies, RIP.”

Some tried to make sense of loss. Angela Powell was “not just a number.” One person wrote, “This was murder,” and another said, “They failed them all.” A woman named Sonia addressed Jemal Hussein: “Sorry you died alone.”

The wall’s founders were citizens and activists, who started painting the empty hearts last year toward the end of one of Britain’s lockdowns. It is visible from Parliament across the river, to represent the more than 150,000 people who had Covid-19 on their death certificates in Britain.

Soon, the hearts held countless names.

“We have no control over it,” said Fran Hall, a volunteer who regularly paints new hearts and covers up any abusive graffiti that appears.

“We could be painting one section, and people are adding hearts further down,” she said. “It is still happening. It is really organic.”

Dacia Viejo-Rose, who researches society’s use of memorials at the University of Cambridge, said the “coming out” of grief over Covid-19 was compelling because so many suffered in isolation.

“It became so much about what are the statistics of people dying, that we lost track of individual suffering,” she said. “We lost track of the individual stories.”

People who are grieving will often seek solace at a memorial that is unrelated, she said.

One day in June, Du Chen, a student from China who is studying at Manchester University, knelt to write in Mandarin on one of the painted hearts in London, to “wish everybody well.”

“People are not just commemorating the people they have lost, but also the way of life before the pandemic,” he said.

A family of tourists from Spain paused, saying their people suffered, too. Alba Prego, 10, ran her fingers along photographs attached to a heart mourning a California man, Gerald Leon Washington, who died at 72 in March.

“The people who wrote that loved him very much,” she said.

Around her, unmarked hearts awaited new names.

With the death toll climbing, there will be more.

Space is also being found for remembrance on a fence at St. James Presbyterian Church in Bedfordview, a suburb on the edge of Johannesburg. In early 2020, caretakers began tying white satin ribbons on the fence for people who died of Covid-19.

By June 25, 2020, about three months after Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, they tied the 2,205th ribbon. By December, there were 23,827.

In January 2021, the month with the highest average deaths in South Africa, the church said it would tie one ribbon for every 10 people who died.

More than 102,000 people have died from Covid-19 in South Africa, although the rate has slowed, the latest figures show. In early July, the fence had 46,200 ribbons tied to it, said the Rev. Gavin Lock.

Families “suffered huge trauma in not being able to visit loved ones in hospital, nor view the deceased, and in some cases not able to follow customary rites,” he said.

In Washington, D.C., more than 700,000 white flags, one for each person lost to Covid, were planted on 20 acres of federal land. From Sept. 17 through Oct. 3, 2021, mourners wandered through the rustling field, writing messages and names on the flags.

“I miss you every day, baby,” a woman whispered as she planted a flag, in a moment captured in a documentary published by The New York Times.

By May 12 this year, when the death toll in the United States reached one million, President Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-staff for four days at the White House and in public areas.

The white flags have kept going up.

Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, the artist behind the installation, “In America: Remember,” said a memorial using new flags was being planned for New Mexico in October. In June, thousands were planted at the State House lawn in Providence, R.I., to commemorate the 3,000 people who died of Covid-19 there.

“What we are seeing is this push for handling it at the state and local level, because no one sees it happening at the national level,” Ms. Firstenberg said.

“The plane is still crashing,” she said. “And it is super hurtful to families to not somehow acknowledge that the pain is still there.”

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Lifestyle

A favor de las relaciones que se quedan 10 por ciento cortas

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En su departamento, se sentó frente al piano y empezó a tocar. Yo lo miraba desde el sofá, oscilando entre la expectación y el terror.

Las conversaciones del día me habían convencido de nuestra compatibilidad —los dos queríamos una vida de viajes con niños aventureros a nuestros pies—, pero sabía que en cuestión de segundos nuestras fantasías mutuas darían paso a la realidad de la piel y el aliento. Recé para que nuestro primer contacto fuera eléctrico. Yo no necesitaba fuegos artificiales para empezar una relación, pero de pronto temí que él sí.

Al día siguiente, tumbados en la cama con las piernas entrelazadas, me dijo que se sentía ansioso. Después de una primera cita tan perfecta como la nuestra, esperaba sentirse eufórico, pero en cambio percibía una vacilación inexplicable. Necesitaba tiempo para pensar.

El rechazo llegó una semana después, a través de un correo electrónico escrito con ternura. Nuestra relación se sentía 90 por ciento bien, tan bien como para enamorarse, pero tan mal como para no durar. Debíamos ponerle fin antes de que la inevitable ruptura se hiciera más difícil. No es que hubiera incompatibilidades flagrantes, y él nunca había experimentado una conexión intelectual tan poderosa como la nuestra, pero faltaba algo.

Leí el correo electrónico en la cama, agradecida de que no hubiera ningún policía que me viera llorar. Cuando se me secaron las lágrimas, me hundí en la almohada, cerré los ojos y me invadió la convicción de que todo este asunto del sentimiento perdido era una estafa o, en el mejor de los casos, una excusa educada, un modo irreprochable de terminar las cosas.

Hay un cuento sufí que me encanta sobre el sabio tonto, el mulá Nasreddin. Dice así: Había caído la oscuridad y Nasreddin había perdido sus llaves. Se arrodilló junto a una farola, buscando. Un amigo se unió a él y, tras un largo rato, le preguntó: “¿Dónde has perdido exactamente las llaves?”. “En mi casa”, contestó Nasreddin. El amigo dijo: “¿Qué? ¿En tu casa? ¿Por qué estamos buscando aquí?”. A lo que Nasreddin respondió: “Aquí hay más luz”.

Los tres únicos hombres con los que había imaginado un futuro me decían que faltaba algo, y yo había dejado que sus palabras me persiguieran durante años, rebuscando en mis recuerdos de nosotros en busca de defectos. Pero tal vez su búsqueda de un sentimiento ausente era un poco como la búsqueda inútil de Nasreddin: buscaban una relación para llenar un vacío emocional en lugar de buscar dentro de sí mismos.

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Day 3: Ice Skating in Style

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It started with Kristi Yamaguchi. My parents took me to see her in Stars on Ice when I was 7 and, from the moment her blades hit the ice, I was enchanted. After years of loving figure skating from afar, last winter I signed up for adult beginner classes at one of New York’s many public skating rinks: the LeFrak Center in Prospect Park. I’m still no Tessa Virtue, but I can reliably move both forward and backward now — wobbling, yes, but mostly without falling over. “It can be hard to keep your seen-it-all-before, New York cool while flat on your back(side), of course,” Emily Ludolph writes in this look at skating across the decades. “But it is the indomitable city spirit that gets us back on our feet and ready for more.”

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Inside Biden’s State Dinner: Hot Dog Talk and a Party That Lasted Until 1 A.M.

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No, this is not relatable to the rest of the country, or even to those who operate just beyond the privileged confines of a crowded white tent on the South Lawn.

But the human impulse to gather — particularly after the worst part of a lengthy pandemic — is universal. Officials who planned the event said the need for Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron to project a united front against the Russian invasion of Ukraine was urgent.

“The magnificence of American soft power was on full display,” Mr. Gifford said. “These personal relationships are such the crux of American foreign policy, and that’s why these matter so much.”

Mr. Gifford watched members of the French delegation closely to make sure they were enjoying themselves — and, crucially, the food, which included a selection of American cheeses and triple-cooked butter potatoes.

“The plates were empty, the glasses were empty,” he reported. In other words, none of the French pointed out that the brut rosé and chardonnay on offer was, after all, “American wine,” as the French ambassador did at the state dinner hosted by the Clintons in 1996.

As America’s old alliance was carefully nursed, flashes of bipartisanship that would perhaps surprise the more tribe-minded supporters of lawmakers appeared. Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, approached Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is attempting to become the next House speaker, to shake hands. That happened more than once.

A senior White House official, who spoke anonymously to describe private conversations, said that conversations with Republicans were kept light — talk of sports took the place of more contentious topics including, say, looming oversight investigations. Guests were discouraged from working the room because of protocol reasons, an attendee said, so it became hard to get a good look at who was doing what.

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