Survivors honor loved ones lost to COVID-19 with Tempe memorial

Mar 2, 2021, 4:45 AM
(KTAR News photo/Peter Samore)...
(KTAR News photo/Peter Samore)
(KTAR News photo/Peter Samore)

TEMPE — Communities are honoring those who lost their lives to COVID-19 with memorials while leaders nationwide proclaimed Monday to be Coronavirus Memorial Day.

Survivors placed flowers and photos of their loved ones in the courtyard of the Arizona Heritage Center in Tempe on Coronavirus Memorial Day as Arizona nears 16,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Joyce Bailey’s sister, Kathy Jones, had kidney failure and multiple sclerosis. Jones died in a hospital last year of COVID-19, while Bailey was hospitalized somewhere else with the same virus.

“She fought to live but COVID fought harder,” Bailey recalled.

“She’s not suffering. She couldn’t walk when she died, but she’s dancing now.”

Linda Washington lost her ex-husband — but still her best friend — to the disease last summer.

“I wish that the people that don’t want to wear masks, don’t want to social distance and don’t take it seriously could be here to see this beautiful garden of memories,” Washington said. “That’s all we have is memories.”

The mourners shared stories of how their loved ones lived full lives with their families, only to die without them in hospitals. Monday’s event served as a general celebration of life.

“We’ve never had any official funeral or celebration for him, which makes it much more difficult and adds to the layers of trauma that are already compounded from the pandemic,” said Samantha Casselman, who lost her father to COVID-19.

Timothy Daniel Reardon was a 27-year veteran with Glendale Police and for 65 days of hospitalization, all Casselman’s family could do was watch him slowly die — via video connection.

When hospital staffers moved the camera and bedsheets in his room, Casselman saw Reardon had lost 50 pounds and practically wasted away.

Casselman and her family were shocked.

“If someone had advocated for him, then we probably wouldn’t have kept him alive for as long as we did,” Casselman said.

She started a nonprofit group called “Speaking Life” to empower families and help with end-of-life choices during the pandemic — and to create “a purpose for her pain.”

Casselman doesn’t want to count on hospitals that she acknowledges have been slammed, not only with trying to keep patients alive but with more restrictions to protect care providers from COVID-19.

The memorial at the museum will remain for the rest of the week.

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Survivors honor loved ones lost to COVID-19 with Tempe memorial