Glebe church ties ribbons to mark each COVID-19 death

·2 min read

A church in Ottawa has created a visual reminder of the toll COVID-19 is taking on the nation's capital.

On a tree not far from the main door of Glebe-St. James United Church, congregants have tied a pale blue ribbon for each person who has died in Ottawa from the pandemic. As of Tuesday, 330 ribbons were knotted to the tree's branches.

That's a lot of grief for a community to hold. - Rev. Teresa Burnett-Cole

Reverend Teresa Burnett-Cole says the congregation wanted to honour each victim and remember them as more than a data point in a graph or table.

"We're so invested in the numbers," Burnett-Cole told CBC's Ottawa Morning.

Instead, as each ribbon is tied around a branch, Burnett-Cole said she's "thinking about not only the victims, but the fact that each one of those ribbons represents a family, friends, a neighborhood, a community."

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, many people have been avoiding funerals and memorials, and have not been able to share their grief with family, friends and coworkers.

"That's an awful lot of grief to be floating around out there, and with people restricted in getting together with their support folk, I think this is a huge problem," said Burnett-Cole. "That's a lot of grief for a community to hold."

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

The tree itself is not very tall, and its yellowed leaves have all but fallen. The ribbons, chosen for their ability to survive the elements, stand out in stark contrast. A small sign explains to passers-by what the ribbons represent.

"It's been amazing, the response from the community," said Burnett-Cole, who said she often sees people stop and linger beside the tree.

A woman emailed the church Tuesday morning in thanks, explaining that her mother had died from COVID-19 in May. "She was so grateful that someone was actually marking the fact that that had happened," said Burnett-Cole.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Burnett-Cole and her wife have taken on the job of tying the ribbons, using a stepladder to reach the higher branches. "These are the things they don't tell you about in seminary," she said. You can see the tree with its shock of ribbons at 650 Lyon St. S., in front of Glebe Montessori School, which is right beside Glebe-St. James United Church.

If you've lost someone to the pandemic and want to share more about what they meant to you, please let us know by sending us an email. Over the next few weeks, CBC Ottawa will be telling the stories of some of the people who have died of COVID-19.