Written by Sarah Ladd for Kentucky Lantern
Kentucky officials unveiled a new memorial honoring those lost to COVID-19 at the Capitol Wednesday.
The installation, called “United We Stand. Divided We Fall,” is an Amanda Mathews design and sculpture.
Matthews is the CEO of Prometheus Art in Lexington. She sculpted the Nettie Depp statue, the first of a woman to be displayed in the Capitol. She also sculpted Kentuckian Alice Dunnigan, the first Black woman journalist to be credentialed to cover the White House, and other projects.
Her COVID Memorial design features a reflective orb inscribed with the sculpture’s title and state motto. A pillar representing the health care workforce and other frontline workers supports it.
Surrounding the orb are figures — including a ballerina, a child, a pregnant woman.
“Common to each figure is a noticeable hole at the base of the neck and the top of the chest,” Matthews previously explained. “This empty space represents the indescribable grief and despair at the loss of our loved ones, relatives and friends who left us far too soon. This grief sometimes feels like a cold wind moving through our chest, shivering a fragile broken heart.”
White lights will illuminate the memorial through the night. It also features green lights, which represent empathy. Many people throughout the pandemic shone green lights on their porches at night.
Jacqueline Woodward, who served on the COVID-19 Memorial Advisory Panel, said during the dedication ceremony that while “there is no way to truly prepare for the grief we have experienced … the COVID Memorial brings me joy because I know that my loved one will never be forgotten.”
UofL Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Smith praised all health care workers during the memorial dedication ceremony.
“Day in and day out, people would show up in the hospital and offices, knowing that we didn’t know anything about how to treat this,” he said of the early days of the pandemic. Smith was the first Kentuckian to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the state.
Health care workers knew “you may die from doing it,” he said. But: “we never had a problem getting people to come and take care of the people that were affected.”
Gov. Andy Beshear said the “evil” COVID-19 virus left legacies of loss and of unity among Kentuckians.
“While we were going through the worst of the worst of darkness, we saw the brightest of lights,” he said. “We saw our health care heroes … showing more courage than most of us could have imagined.”
Cabinet for Health and Family Services data shows 18,726 Kentuckians died with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, as of May 24. The majority of deaths were among men and those 75 to 84 years old.
“The COVID 19 pandemic interrupted our entire world, introducing unexpected illness, grief and insecurity to our families and friends,” Matthews said at the unveiling ceremony. “It pulled many of us into the depths of despair and isolation, rendering bear the reality that every person is susceptible.”
The pandemic also, she said, “gave us a glimpse of how our communities can hold each other up in times of great challenge,” a sentiment represented in her design.
And: “It showed us the grit, determination and innovation of our medical and scientific communities and frontline workers as well as the compassion and altruism of all types of caregivers across our great commonwealth.”