A Chattanooga florist is joining a nationwide effort to give anyone touched by the pandemic a place to grieve.
On Monday, Becca Coleman will set up a heart-shaped, flower-filled memorial outside Joli Jardin, her flower shop at 1428 Williams St., as part of the Floral Heart Project, begun by New York City artist Kristina Libby.
"COVID has affected so many people," Coleman said. "People have lost loved ones, jobs, homes. And during all of this, people haven't been able to mourn publicly. We want to honor those people who've been silently dealing with it."
Volunteers in nearly 100 cities have signed on to participate in the Floral Heart Project, symbolized by heart-shaped groupings of flowers placed in public spaces. In some cities, Monday's memorials will include vigils, musical accompaniment and speeches by families affected by a pandemic loss. Coleman said volunteers will be posted beside the local memorial to explain its meaning and to listen to anyone who wants to share a COVID-related story.
Libby started randomly placing these floral memorials last April. Hers are simple garlands of roses fashioned into heart shapes and left lying on sidewalks, park paths and pedestrian bridges. Her thinking was, she told The Washington Post, "In this moment when we don't have normal collective ways of mourning, how can we do something?"
Two national flower companies have subsidized some of Libby's memorials and are underwriting costs for the Monday events in some larger cities.
If you go
Chattanooga’s Floral Heart Project will be set up outside Joli Jardin, 1428 Williams St. from 9 a.m. Monday through late Wednesday.
* The Floral Heart Project: floralheartproject.com
* Chattanooga’s event: Facebook.com
"We did not get that donation," Coleman said. "We have raised a little bit of money, but it's mostly coming out of pocket."
Coleman said she and her collaborators — Erin Leonard, Tess Henshaw, Julie Holder Powell and Bo Powell — decided on a standing frame for greater visibility for their Floral Heart Project. The design will incorporate "400 roses, about 500 carnations and a bunch of various other things as well," Coleman said.
The multi-city commemorations come a week after a communal mourning service by President Joe Biden at the White House for the 500,000 Americans killed by the coronavirus. The grim milestone also reflects the millions who are mourning these deaths.
Throughout the pandemic, experts ranging from mental health advocates to funeral directors have noted that the isolation required to combat the contagion has delayed and compounded the normal grieving process.
"One of the first things you learn is grief that is shared is grief that is lessened," said Stoney Ponders, owner of Ponders Funeral Home in Dalton, Georgia. "If people are grieving alone, it's horrible."
Chattanooga's Floral Heart Project will be ready for visitors by 9 a.m. Monday and will stay up through Wednesday. A digital projection created by Libby, called HeartBleed, will be shown at 7 p.m. Monday. The video uses a falling rose petal to represent every person lost to COVID-19, timed to the day of loss. The single petals that begin the video eventually become a solid, swirling mass that fills the screen.
Coleman said she hopes the Floral Heart Project can be a place for grieving families to find solace and support.
"We want them to know 'we see you,'" she said. "We honor that grief and feel your loss."
Contact Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6281.