(Above: Top row, left to right: Zoilo Saavedra, 56, Folsom, CA; Lila Schneider, of Goodyear, AZ; Shawn Griffin, 61, of Harrisburg, PA; Darlene Pool, 61, of Pueblo, CO; Elizabeth Bendes of Bay City, MI. Second row: Dr John Carter, Jr., 85, of Poughkeepsie, NY; Rosalind Underwood, 55, of Louisville, KY; Charlie Correll, 10, of Staten Island, NY; Allison Jensen, 27, of Buffalo, NY; Bob McDonald, Sr., 76, of Livingston, LA. Third row: JJ Boatman, 9, of Vernon, TX; Michael Bianco, Sr., 63, of Savannah, GA; Hughie Lightner, 73, Chattanooga, TN; Tina Wilkerson, 58, of Smyrna, TX; Sandy Darsono, 53, of Colton, CA.)
The numbers kept adding up.
More and more people were dying of COVID-19. Last March, Alex Goldstein felt overwhelmed and numbed by the statistics flashing across the headlines.
“I felt like the narrative was devoid of emotion and humanity, and that that needed to be injected back in,” says the Boston-area communications consultant.
Goldstein established Faces of COVID, a Twitter account devoted to paying tribute to the dead.
“In the beginning, Faces of COVID started as a means of me being able to process the loss that was happening out there by putting a face and a name to the stories,” Goldstein says. “I quickly realized that there were a lot of people that were looking for a similar ability to intimately connect with the loss and the trauma that was happening out there.”
Scroll through Faces of COVID and find smiling faces and heartfelt tributes.
There’s Hugh Gillis, 90, of Katy, Texas, who was the "the kindest, most amazing man.” Richard Williams, 53, of Newport News, Virginia, was a “hardworking man who loved to give back." Dora Cantu, 58, of Pasadena, Texas, will be remembered for her smile and attitude that “would light up a room."
The tributes are a comfort to families who haven’t been able to process their grief by going through traditional death rituals because of COVID-19 restrictions. Faces of COVID has become an online destination where the wider American community can grieve together.
“It makes you realize you're not alone in this, that there are hundreds of thousands of people that are in the same boat with you,” says Karen Nascembeni, a Boston-area theater director who lost her husband, Steven Richard, to COVID-19 in March 2020. “It's kind of like when you're standing in a cemetery and you look around at all those tombstones and just say, ‘Well, I'm not alone.’”
Goldstein says he has shared 5,000 stories since launching Faces of COVID. Some are contributed by family members and loved ones; others, Goldstein finds himself through different sources. The account, which has nearly 150,000 followers, has deepened his understanding of his country and its people.
“People in their worst moments are also incredibly graceful and kind and vulnerable and sharing things that you sometimes feel unworthy of hearing,” he says.
“It has also reminded me just how beautiful and textured the American experience is and how diverse our country is. … And so, it's been a strange way to experience the country, but these stories bring you into every big city and small town in every state, and you learn a lot.”
Goldstein is surprised that Faces of COVID is one of the few national, ongoing tributes to the more than 519,000 lost in the United States. He thinks the country as a whole has deferred processing the grief and trauma brought on by the pandemic, which has not allowed the nation to grieve in a communal way.
“I certainly hope that we can give at least some of the attention to the losses we've sustained that they deserve,” he says. “And I don't know if this country has the capacity to go back or if we're going to insist on just, you know, keep moving forward in a very emotionally stunted way.”
Until then, Goldstein is committed to continuing to bear witness to the still-unfolding national tragedy.
“Putting a face and a name to these numbers is also a means, in a very small way, of seeking accountability,” he says. “Because I think every single one of these stories asks a bigger question about what our leaders could have done to protect these people. What decisions we could have made that would have kept them safe. And also, what responsibility we have within our own communities to look after each other.”