JERSEY CITY, NJ - A brisk chill greeted those who gathered in front of City Hall in Jersey City on the evening before Joe Biden was to be inaugurated.
The crowd was smaller than many previous gatherings here, and more solemn. This was not the kind of event to draw outrage as similar gatherings had, but to join other groups nationwide for a National Moment of Unity and Remembrance.
There were no protest signs. No people with bullhorns motivating people to rise up, but rather people who had come to mourn the passing of loved ones who had died over the last year from COVID-19.
Several held pictures of relatives who had also perished as a result of the pandemic
In Washington D.C. the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool was lit to commemorate lives lost, launching the national ceremony that took place on a smaller scale in towns like Jersey City all across the United States.
Making its mark at this event was a “Floral Hearts” wreath, designed by NYC artist Kristina Libby and illuminated by small electric candles, that stood in front of the ornate government building.
Many of those who spoke talked about the inability to give their loved ones the traditional send off most families did before the pandemic struck. Many of the more than 400,000 people who died over the last year as a result of COVID, one attendee said, have almost become invisible in the gathering of statistics.
“These people are more than statistics,” Sabila Khan, who organized the local event, told the crowd.
Khan, who formed the local group COVID-19 Loss Support for Family & Friends, whose membership had swelled to more than 6,000 since the pandemic began last March, lost her father, Shafqat Khan, in April. He was an activist in the Pakistani-American community in Jersey City.
"My father was the truest example of a solid, reliable and good human being, who showed up for his family and his community every single day,'' she said
Among those who came to remember was Mayor Steven M. Fulop who had lost grandmother in the pandemic. “She was 93,” he said. “She was not a statistic either.”
Stefania McCall also recounted the loss of her father, Stanley Miklas, a U.S. Marine and a Vietnam War veteran, who worked at the Veteran Administration Hospital in New York City. He came down with 104-degree fever and died a week later at home on March 29.
Due to the pandemic, the family could hold no wake or gather at his gravesite. “We just waved goodbye from the cemetery gates,” she said. "COVID took the strongest man I have ever known, within a week's time.”
He was one of the nearly 18,500 people who died of COVID-related illness in New Jersey.
Vernon Richardson, aide to former Councilman Michael Yun, came close to tears as he recalled the COVID-19 death of Yun in early April, and how huge a loss he felt Yun’s passing was.
“People would walk away from talking with him not understanding a word he said,” Richardson said. “But you can be assured he understood them. He is someone I miss dearly. He is someone who really cared about the community.”
Councilmember Mira Prinz-Arey, James Solomon and Rolando Lavarro, the third of whom fought his own battle with the virus, were also on hand to share condolences for those lost.
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