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Remembering more than 1,600 Delaware lives lost to COVID-19

Presbyterian Church of Dover dedicates Garden Remembrance Memorial

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Duke Dixon, his wife J. Lynne, and Tricia Allan of Whitehill Manufacturing hold samples of the more than 2,000 tubes the company donated to create the figures and pillars for the Garden Remembrance Memorial at Presbyterian Church of Dover, Delaware. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — A Garden Remembrance Memorial has been installed on the front courtyard of the Presbyterian Church of Dover, 54 S. State St., Dover, Delaware. It’s a temporary tribute, a space for healing, reflection and prayer to honor the lives of more than 1,600 Delawareans lost to COVID-19 from March 2020 to the end of May 2021.

The memorial, dedicated by the congregation on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, and publicly dedicated in a service for the community the following day, took six core people and more than 20 others several months to plan, prime, paint and assemble. The design shows the number of lives lost month by month, with each life represented by a lightweight tube 3 ¼ x 11 inches. The tubes, donated by Whitehill Manufacturing, a specialty rope manufacturer in Chester, Pennsylvania, are painted the color of each month’s birthstone and stacked in pillars. Each tube has a bright light shining from within to symbolize the light of each person’s life. Sticky notes are available for visitors to honor a loved one lost to COVID in Delaware by placing their name inside a tube in the pillar of tubes corresponding to the month they died.

The concept was the idea of J. Lynne Dixon, wife of the Rev. Dr. Richard H. “Duke” Dixon, interim pastor. Yet it wasn’t until the entire memorial was set up that Duke Dixon said, “Hey, do you realize this tells a story?” Watch the story of the memorial in this video: “Seeking the Light at the End of COVID-19’s Dark Tunnel.”

A praying figure lies prostrate, crying out to God for an end to the pandemic. (Contributed photo)

The installation opens with a figure praying for safety and a quick end to the pandemic. “Our lives were completely changed with what was coming next,” Duke Dixon said. Then the deaths from COVID begin to stack up with 12 in March 2020, 200 in April and 222 in May. As preventive measures like wearing masks, frequent handwashing and social distancing were more widely practiced, the numbers begin to decline in Delaware to 69 in June, 32 in July and 19 in August.

But then as many become complacent, the numbers begin to rise again, from 37 in September to 83 in October to 85 in November. Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings caused deaths to shoot up even more with 264 in December and 309 in January 2021 — a pillar 10 feet 3 inches high, taller than a basketball hoop.

As hope appeared in the form of vaccines, the number of deaths begin to decline again, with 139 in February, 53 in March, 34 in April and 12 in May.

Tubes were primed, painted and glued together in the basement of the church, then assembled to form the birthstone-colored pillars for each of the 15 months documented. (Contributed photo)

Together with several others, David Denny, treasurer of Presbyterian Church of Dover and a member of the Garden Remembrance Memorial Committee, made several trips to Pennsylvania to bring back enough tubes to complete the memorial. The strands of lights had to be special ordered because they needed to be 4 inches apart and standard Christmas lights are 3 ½ inches apart. He also designed a jig to punch 51 holes in the backboard at one time, so the lights could be centered securely inside each of the tubes.

During the dedication service, one of the members of the congregation walked forward to place her husband’s name in one of the tubes. They both had COVID. She survived but he did not. It was “a real moving moment,” Denny said.

The Garden Remembrance Memorial begins with a figure kneeling in prayer and ends with three standing figures, arms lifted high, rejoicing in being able to gather together once again. (Contributed photo)

“This pandemic for many just caused us to fall on our faces in prayer, releasing our grief and our hurt and our pain, begging for God to bring deliverance,” Duke Dixon said, pointing to a figure made of tubes. “We were in this place for a long time, praying for an end, calling out to God in our grief.

“Now we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Duke Dixon said, “Our mourning is turning into dancing,” he said, gesturing toward three tube figures at the end of the memorial with their arms raised. They appear to be rejoicing that they can gather with family and friends once again. Watch a news segment about the memorial from WBOC here.

At night the lights shine showing tragedy and hope. The tallest pillar is January 2021, when 309 of more than 1,600 Delaware residents lost their lives to COVID. Each tube has a light within to represent the life of a loved one no longer with us. (Contributed photo)

“We give thanks for those who have recovered from COVID, and we pray for those who have ongoing symptoms or ongoing problems from COVID,” Duke Dixon said. He is grateful the Presbyterian Church of Dover, a Matthew 25 congregation in New Castle Presbytery, could work together to create a memorial to bring healing and wholeness to a community hit so hard by COVID. “This moves us outside of our walls to show that we care,” he said.

The Garden Remembrance Memorial is scheduled to be on display in the church courtyard until July 25. For more information, contact the church at (302) 734-3313.

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