A Tribute To: Online Obituaries for Filipinos We Lost to COVID-19
These modern-day heroes are more than just statistics
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it,” writes Joan Didion in A Year of Magical Thinking. We are all acquainted with grief, most especially in the face of this global pandemic. With the soaring fatality rate, it’s easy for those lost to the war against the virus to be dehumanized, to seem like just a part of alarming—yet desensitizing—statistics. From essential frontliners and everyday citizens, these modern-day heroes are more than just grievous headlines.
Most of us will never have to experience this distinct loss, where people are physically separated from their loved ones and can’t even hold wakes for them. For those who have lost a grandparent, a parent, a sibling, a friend or a colleague in the time of COVID-19, A Tribute To is a safe space to honor them and celebrate their lives.
Friends Stel De Vera and Meryl Ligunas currently based in Kuala Lumpur are roommates who created A Tribute To. Stel is a digital design professional, passionate about humanizing technology to make it accessible to all. Meryl works in corporate philanthropy as an advocate for communications for development, using digital media as a tool to ignite social change.
We caught up with the two to talk about their digital platform to help individuals overcome grief.
Wonder: How did you guys come up with A Tribute To?
Stel: We saw people writing on their own pages about people they’ve lost, and we thought of putting them together in one place. That way, even strangers can read about the heartwarming stories and honor the memory of our fellow Filipinos who succumbed to the virus.
Meryl: I never imagined that we would come to a point where we would have to grieve alone. Since large gatherings are prohibited now, we wanted to utilize the internet, a space we share freely, to gather people to exchange stories, grieve and celebrate lives together.
W: How does providing a safe space to articulate grief help one overcome it?
Stel: Aside from giving people a platform to honor their deceased family member, friend or colleague, the hope is for them to read the messages and tributes written by others and take comfort in knowing that there are other people who are mourning and celebrating with them, even just virtually.
Meryl: I cannot imagine what the people who lost their loved ones in this pandemic are feeling, but we want to remind them they are not alone. The Internet [can] sometimes be a cruel place but, if you look hard enough, you will find people who overflow with kind words and sincerity. We want this website to be a gathering of those people.
W: Which entries are etched in your heart?
Stel: From A Tribute To Alvin Agustin Ignacio: “I am not looking forward to when things go normal, and I have to accept that you [will] not be there anymore to see me off to work every night.”
This tribute made me miss my family more and made me realize how we take for granted these seemingly simple moments, not fully understanding that we don’t have unlimited chances to have them. It was painful to read but, at the same time, eye-opening for me because it encourages me to live every day more fully.
Meryl: From A Tribute to Nida Paqueo: “While weeping during the video chat with my Dad the other night, he shared so much with me about his love and deep friendship with Mom. ‘The very best of your mom lives within you and your brothers,’ Dad reminded me. ‘So now you have to live your life in the very best way to honor her.’”
I loved this entry and this particular line so much because it made me appreciate my parents more. I’m so blessed that they are safe and healthy and reminded me to not just treasure each moment I share with them, but also try to live my life in a way that reflects their strength, religiosity and overflowing kindness.
Coping with loss does not look the same for everybody. Thankfully, with technology, we can remain connected even through self-isolation. Together, we can overcome this adversity.
To submit an entry to A Tribute To, click here.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver