Memorial honors victims of COVID-19

October 25, 2020

Pam Douglas shows her art installation

One by one, Pam Douglas folds a colorful piece of paper into an origami crane.

Each crane represents one Iowan who has died from COVID-19.

More than 1,600 paper birds have been created and hung like banners in the sanctuary of Sacred Heart Church in West Des Moines. Two banners, each about 10 feet long, flank a sculpture of Jesus on the cross.

The art installation, put up Oct. 16, illustrates the toll the virus has taken in Iowa.

“This is a beautiful tribute at Sacred Heart to those that we have lost this year in the state of Iowa to Covid-19,” said Father Chris Hartshorn, the pastor. “There has been so much loss and so much grief upon grief this year. These are not just numbers, they are people. Let us hold them in prayer.”

Douglas chose the crane for her artwork because the bird, with its broad wing span, carries much symbolism in some cultures. A victim of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 began a tradition of paper crane folding to encourage healing and hope.

Douglas created a sculpture with cranes several years ago and has incorporated it in her church’s décor for All Saints Day and All Souls Day since then. She adapted her artwork when she read about a Californian who was attempting to create a paper crane art installation that represents each person in the United States who lost his or her life to the virus.

With a prayerful heart for the man or woman who died and for their family, she recently added another 100 cranes representing the number of Iowans who died of the virus in just eight days. Each crane is colorful, representing the victims’ unique personalities, and about 200 have names on them for the people she could identify who have died.

“It makes people think about other families and what they’re experiencing,” said Douglas. “People are dying from this terrible pandemic. There are people left grieving and they’ve never had to grieve this way before.”

Many of the victims have died without their families at their side because of the risk of contracting the illness. The thought of a loved one dying alone creates an added dimension to the grief, she said.

“We have to figure out different ways to reach out to them,” she said. “Grieving is a difficult process for some people and they just need someone to listen to them and befriend them.”

Douglas plans to keep adding to the banners until the end of November, when the art installation comes down so that the church can be prepared for Advent.

After that, she’ll continue making the cranes.

“I will continue to make the cranes, even if they’re boxed up because the pandemic is still going on. We’re still losing people. They still need to be remembered. Prayers still need said for the families.”

Anyone in Iowa who would like ot have the name of someone who died from COVID-19 written on a crane in the memorial can call the church office at 515-225-6414 to give the name to the receiptionist.

The art installation can be seen at Sacred Heart Church in West Des Moines between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and before and after weekend Masses. Go to the main church office doors during the week to gain access to the sanctuary.

Photos by Bob Nandell/Diocese of Des Moines