Lynchburg creates memorial to mark a year since US’ first-reported COVID-19 death

Organizers hope display will become a growing memorial through March 5

Virginia has experienced 8,783 COVID-19 deaths and 1,658 reported locally. Today, a group of people are honoring those lives.

LYNCHBURG, Va. – Monday marked one year since America reported its first COVID-19 death, but the U.S. has come a long way since then.

Since March 1, 2020, the United States of America has reported more than 500,000 COVID-19-related deaths, nearly 9,000 of those have been in Virginia, and around 1,700 reported locally.

Lynchburg residents and business owners created a memorial as the nation’s death toll continues to rise.

Inside the Hip Tulip Flower Shop, Colleen Dykstra helped prune nearly 500 roses in the shape of a heart to honor those who have been impacted by COVID-19.

“It just kind of hits you, like the magnitude of the situation. And the way that [the roses are] all different colors, so it seems like all different types of people have been affected in different ways; but it’s affected all of us in some way,” said Dykstra, whose grandfather, a Vietnam veteran, battled COVID-19 and died in December.

For Dykstra, the vibrant, three-foot display of roses blossoms a bond with so many others.

“It’s really awesome that we get to be a part of this with the community and show them that we want to stand in solidarity with them,” Dykstra added.

The show of solidarity was created by Jan Trent, a local resident and volunteer for the Floral Heart Project, a nationwide, grassroots effort to observe March 1 as a day of remembrance.

Trent said heart-shaped displays are popping up across the country, and she wanted to bring the campaign to Lynchburg, the only city in our area taking part.

The display will be located outside the Craddock Terry Hotel in downtown Lynchburg.

“[When people see photos of it, they] will know it’s in Virginia because we have these ‘love’ installations, and the Lynchburg shoe is just so unique. No one can ever confuse where it’s at. It will be right here, local,” said Trent, who added what’s important isn’t where it’s placed, but why.

“Grief is a very difficult journey, and we just want to be part of letting people know that we can’t walk their journey for them, but we can walk with them.”

Kelli Willis, owner of the Hip Tulip Flower Shop, has faith the display will help people cope.

“We’re in this together. Stand strong and just maybe be hopeful,” said Willis.

You can see the heart-shaped display through March 5. Organizers hope it becomes a growing memorial, where people leave messages, flowers and photos to honor loved ones they’ve lost.

About the Author:

Tim Harfmann joined the 10 News team in September 2020 and works at the station's Lynchburg bureau.