DOWNTOWN — To honor the nearly 4,900 Chicagoans who have died of COVID-19, an Albany Park woman who lost her own mother to the virus welcomed other grieving families Monday at a public memorial Downtown.
Luz María Vargas established three temporary spaces for people to mourn loved ones lost to coronavirus as part of the Floral Heart Project. Spearheaded by New York artist Christina Libby, the project calls for participants to set up floral heart-shaped wreaths in public places.
Vargas organized three of these spaces at Buckingham Fountain, and Drake Gardens and Hibbard Elementary School in Albany Park. People can stop at the wreaths to grieve and to heal together at the Buckingham Fountain memorial through Wednesday.
On Monday, about 20 people gathered Downtown around a heart-shaped bouquet of roses to mourn. This gathering correlated with more than 100 memorials taking place on March 1 across the country in a push to recognize it as COVID Memorial Day, Vargas said.
Vargas’ mom, Paula Vargas, died of complications from COVID-19 in November.
“I hope she knows that I’m doing this for her that I’m doing this out of love, solidarity for the many others that have also endured a loss and that this is bigger than all of us,” Vargas said as she stood among the small crowd.
“I think she was with me throughout the whole process because when I thought it wasn’t going to happen and I dealt with obstacles, they just simply came to fruition on their own. …Prayer – that I learned from her – can move mountains and I’m sure she, from up above, is opening the pathways for me to ensure that this could happen.”
Mourners scattered rose petals onto the floral arrangement, reflecting on the immense loss from the pandemic.
Leticia Vargas, Luz María Vargas’s sister, said she hopes the memorial shakes folks from the daily loss statistics. The people who are gone are “not just a number,” she said.
“They’re actually people that we love,” she said. “They were family, friends, grandparents, parents, even kids. So this is really special for us.”
Family friend Raquel Esparza said she saw a metaphor in the floral arrangement, sustaining through the blustery elements.
“Life does bloom, even through the most difficult situations. So it was wonderful to see that – even the petals that surrounded the flower, they stood in place,” Esparza said. “That was just a powerful reminder that those who have passed on before us still remain in place in those special places in our hearts.”
After the flowers are removed, Vargas said she wants the city to create a similar, permanent memorial space.
“We’re moving to ensure that – just asked Chicago has been on the forefront of addressing this pandemic – that they continue to do so by also acknowledging the grief of the lost ones,” Vargas said.
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