With Westchester County reaching a tragic plateau in coronavirus-related deaths, clergy members and elected officials gathered in Yonkers last week to pay tribute to the more than 1,500 residents who have died since March.
County Executive George Latimer last Thursday hosted the memorial ceremony at Lenoir Nature Preserve, where a Ribbons of Remembrance monument had been erected in May. The memorial consists of a tree and rope structure that allows visitors to hang ribbons with the names of someone who has died of COVID-19.
Since March, Westchester County has recorded 1,545 COVID-19-related deaths.
Latimer said the memorial serves as a reminder of all we have lost to the virus and the resilience residents must continue to display navigating through this next phase of the pandemic.
“To see people that we love die in a context of a pandemic is in some ways harder than any other way because what took their lives was not visible to us; it was everywhere and it was nowhere and it’s still there,” Latimer said. “We do what we have to do, not only for us to survive but for the people we interact with to survive, and unfortunately we have a monument to the fact that over 1,500 people did not survive.”
Latimer stressed that all those who died were alive last Valentine’s Day and had the opportunity to be truly and fully loved by a family member, friend or spouse. He added that with every update he provides to the community on the virus, he thinks of Eastchester Councilman Glenn Bellitto.
Bellitto, 62, died of coronavirus on Apr. 2, shortly after being hospitalized. At that time, Bellitto was one of 71 Westchester residents whose lives had been claimed by the virus.
“Glenn was afflicted by this, and in almost no time at all, he went from being sick to being gone forever,” Latimer said. “The most important thing is that we remember those that have died, and it is a scar to talk about COVID and not remember the people who died.”
Rev. Troy DeCohen, senior pastor at the Mount Vernon Heights Congregational Church, implored people to remember that many of those who have died perished alone. With several constraints in place in area hospitals restricting visitors, many reportedly died while family watched or said goodbye virtually.
With the winter months ahead, the memorial will now be relocated indoors to the main floor of the county Office Building at 148 Martine Ave. in White Plains. Members of the public are still welcome to add names to the monument at its new location.
“This pandemic will pass, but for anyone who hung a ribbon and everyone else who is grieving a loved one they lost to COVID, there is a hole that will always remain forever,” Board of Legislators Chairman Ben Boykin (D-White Plains) said. “We must remember, and we must commit ourselves to always remember.”