Unique Memorial in Old Greenwich Honors Lives Lost to Covid-19, Offers Hope

On Wednesday, May 27, four months since the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in the US, the country hit a grim milestone with the death toll hitting 100,000.

In Connecticut the pandemic had taken the lives of 3,803 residents as of 5:30pm on Wednesday.

At First Church in Old Greenwich Senior Pastor Patrick Collins devised a simple yet powerful a way to honor each Connecticut life lost.

Reverend Collins plants a simple white flag on the front lawn of the church, where passing drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists gaze at the powerful display.

Collins has incorporated the placing of flags into his daily routine.

White flags on the lawn of First Church in Old Greenwich. Photo: Oura Miyazaki

White flags on the lawn of First Church in Old Greenwich. Photo: Oura Miyazaki

“I wake up in the morning and check the numbers from overnight,” Collins said, adding that he wanted to ensure the lives lost aren’t reduced to a statistic.

Though the daily losses in Connecticut have been decreasing recently, it is crucial to keep in mind that, “each flag is a person.”

In the process of planting the flags one by one, Reverend Collins seeks to honor the valuable lives lost in isolation, and create respectful a gesture to the families who have experienced a great loss without a chance to say goodbye.

“I’ve had a few people come up to me in tears,” Collins said.

As residents seek a sense of normalcy during this unfamiliar bewildering time, creating new routines that include distance learning, bike riding or working from home if they are lucky, Collins’ effort resonates.

The individuals represented by the flags are as random as the people viewing them. Many of them might have been out on a walk or a run on Sound Beach Ave just a few weeks ago.

While the curve of patients testing positive for Covid-19 is in decline, and the state and town are gradually reopening parks and businesses, those who are in still in the hospital are very sick.

White flags on the lawn of First Church in Old Greenwich. Photo: Oura Miyazaki

White flags on the lawn of First Church in Old Greenwich. Photo: Oura Miyazaki

“I don’t want us to get a false sense of security and think we can go back to normal and have another wave hit us,” Collins said, adding that he hopes people remain diligent about social distancing and mask wearing, so that the number of new Covid-19 cases continues to decrease.

He noted that the color of white symbolizes hope in his faith tradition.

Collins also expressed appreciation for how Connecticut has managed the situation with caution, explaining, “I think part of that is because it did hit us so hard.”

Affected by the flags himself, Collins said he felt that his effort had united the community to face the pandemic together.

Mindful of the more vulnerable residents in his congregation, and keenly aware that parishioners could be asymptomatic and pass Covid-19 onto others, Collins is carefully investigating the possibility of reopening the church.

“The beauty of this memorial is that you can take it and use it as whatever kind of reminder you need for what you’re going through,” Collins explained, adding that people of all ages find meaning in the white flags.

The simple white flags are both a reminder of the severity of the pandemic and a powerful symbol of hope that unites the community.

Oura Miyazaki is a member of the Greenwich High School class of 2021