Don’t Forget to Remember

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Roman Mars: This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars. It’s a Saturday afternoon in Golden Gate Park, and a handful of kids are taking turns sending a little white stomp rocket into the gray San Francisco sky. It arcs up, then sails back down to this small meadow at the northern edge of the park, bounded by shaggy evergreens. 

Chris Colin: Yeah. So, the rocket lands. The kids go apeshit. Then they proceed to tear off after it, fully oblivious to the tall, thin man watching from atop a nearby boulder. 

Roman Mars: That’s producer Chris Collin. 

Chris Colin: The man is made of bronze, and this obscure little corner of the park is named for him. The Doughboy statue was unveiled here in the Doughboy Meadow in 1930. He’s a handsome young guy, gazing out resolutely at the patch of earth that has borne his name for almost a century. I was just curious about one thing. So, I walked up to a couple sitting near the stomp rocket kids. 

Chris Colin (field tape): Hey, can I ask you guys a question? 

Man: Yeah. 

Roman Mars: Who is that guy? 

Man: I actually don’t know. 

Chris Colin (field tape): Do you know who that is? 

Woman #1: Who is what? 

Chris Colin (field tape): That statue right behind you. 

Woman #1: Doughboy? 

Chris Colin (field tape): Do you know what a doughboy is? 

Woman #1: I just knew this was Doughboy Meadows. Deductive reasoning. Lucky guess. 

Chris Colin: I present this high-level exchange because it illustrates something about our world–specifically, the bronze and granite corner of our world where we memorialize the losses most important to us as a civilization. The Doughboy Meadow commemorates 39 San Franciscans who were killed in World War I. 16 more were killed in World War II, and their names were added to the plaque under the statue. 

Roman Mars: Doughboys are what they used to call infantrymen back in the day–a fact that nobody Chris interviewed on the meadow that morning seemed to know or care about, which, you know… fine. 

Chris Colin: But it raises questions in your mind about the purpose of memorials. Or at least it does. If, like me, you’ve spent the last year walking up to every memorial you see and wondering what they say about us and wondering what they even do. So that’s partly why I wandered over to the Doughboy Meadow that Saturday. But I have to admit something to you, which is that this story is not about doughboys. In fact, this whole scene in the Doughboy Meadow has allowed me to put off mentioning something that I fear will make you yank out your earbuds the moment I bring it up. But here goes. This is actually a story about Covid. And more specifically, it’s about a group of people fighting to create a memorial for a devastating disease that many of us just don’t want to talk about or think about anymore. 

Kristin Urquiza: He was tall and handsome. He was a very handsome guy. I don’t know why that just made me sad. 

Chris Colin: That’s Kristin Urquiza talking about her dad. Lately, she’s been having this recurring dream about him. 

Kristin Urquiza: He’s wearing his quintessential early ’90s gear, which includes aviators–you know, off brand Ray-Bans–a polo shirt, and these, like, tiny little McGregor shorts that are, like, made out of vinyl or something really interesting. And he’s got, like, the knee-high socks. So, he’s just in this gazebo, sort of, like, beckoning me to come and be with him. 

Chris Colin: Kristin grew up with her dad and mom in Phoenix. They lived in a neighborhood called Maryvale, a working-class community that’s largely immigrant and mostly Latino. 

Roman Mars: And that’s where Kristin’s parents were still living in 2020, when the world first heard the word “coronavirus.” At first, the family was on the same page about this mysterious new disease. 

Chris Colin: And that page was basically, “This is terrifying. Jesus Christ. Stay home.”

Kristin Urquiza: And then Trump decided to visit Arizona on May 5th. And I think that was a political move to go and declare that we were on the right path. Then the governor of Arizona went on a PR spree across the state, saying that it was safe to go about normal. And that’s when my relationship, when my conversations, and when everything with my dad started to change. 

Chris Colin: A couple things about her dad, Mark Urquiza… 1) He was a Fox News-watching, America-loving guy. If the guys he elected said Covid was under control for healthy people, he believed it. 2) Dude loved a party. He was happy and sweet and exuberant with this big voice. And if anyone was at the edge of the room, he made sure they felt part of things. 

Kristin Urquiza: So-and-so’s birthday or an important NASCAR race or any occasion in which to celebrate, my dad was such a booster for experiencing joy. 

Roman Mars: So, Mark didn’t hesitate when a friend threw a birthday karaoke party not long after Arizona’s stay-at-home orders were lifted. 

Chris Colin: Within a few weeks, Mark Urquiza was in the hospital. And though he was otherwise healthy, his condition worsened. He got moved to the ICU, and then–all alone–he was put on a ventilator. Kristin was driving to Phoenix from her home in San Francisco on June 30th, when she learned he was slipping away. At a gas station on the side of the highway, she spoke to her father as a nurse at the hospital held up a phone to his ear. He died soon after that. The nurse held his hand. 

Kristin Urquiza: “Mark was a high school 400-meter dash state champion and cross-country runner. Mark was known for his infectious energy, strong will, and–yes–stubbornness.:

Roman Mars: This is the obituary Kristin wrote for her father. It’s lovely and heartbreaking. And then it takes a turn. 

Kristin Urquiza: “Mark, like so many others, should not have died from Covid-19. His death is due to the carelessness of the politicians who continue to jeopardize the health of brown bodies through a clear lack of leadership, refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis, and inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize risk.”

Chris Colin: Kristin wasn’t just beside herself with grief, she was furious. And the obituary did something kind of remarkable. It invited anyone with loved ones suffering from Covid or having died from Covid to join an altar she was creating outside the Arizona State Capitol. 

Roman Mars: In July of 2020, nobody had really articulated this kind of sadness and anger yet. The obit exploded across the internet. Soon, the governor was being asked about Mark’s death. By August, Kristin was speaking by Zoom at the Democratic National Convention. 

Kristin Urquiza: My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life. 

Chris Colin: Okay, this sounds like it’s winding up into an anti-Trump harangue. For a minute, Kristin’s life was basically an anti-Trump harangue. But as that was going on, something else was happening in the background. Ordinary people started reaching out to Kristin. In this plainspoken, 39-year-old nonprofit worker. They saw someone who grasped what was really happening in this country. Dozens and then hundreds and eventually thousands of strangers began to share their grief with her. 

Kristin Urquiza: I don’t think there’s anybody in the entire world who’s talked to as many folks who’ve lost a loved one to Covid than me. 

Chris Colin: That’s something I’ve heard from a number of people about Kristin, incidentally. And the more people she heard from, the more her view began to evolve. Covid was dominating the headlines at the time. It was all anyone talked about. And yet we still weren’t really reckoning with the amount of sheer horrific loss it was grinding into the world. All this death was obviously central to our fears about Covid, but paradoxically, we hadn’t created a space or a place to honor the actual people who were dying. 

Roman Mars: Kristin felt like until we did, the country was never really going to heal, which also meant it wasn’t going to learn to do better the next time. Kristin was lost in sadness, but one thing felt suddenly clear. 

Chris Colin: Someone needed to mark this catastrophe for generations to come. 

Roman Mars: Countless smaller and more local memorials have sprung up, of course, many of them phenomenal. But Kristin wanted something national and historic in scope–a permanent Covid memorial for the whole country. It needed to be as big as the pandemic itself and flexible enough to accommodate a still unfolding disease and critical enough to recognize how it exacerbated other societal crises in the country and sophisticated enough to somehow reflect all of the wildly different feelings we’d eventually have about the pandemic. 

Chris Colin: So, she decided to call the United States Department of Memorialization, and they got right to work creating a permanent and very thoughtful national memorial to the Covid pandemic. 

Roman Mars: Except there is no Department of Memorialization. When, say, a highway gets made, there’s a clear and consistent process for doing so–not so public memorials. From the Vietnam War to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, it’s always different. Sometimes a handful of concerned citizens get together and make it happen. Sometimes a nonprofit pushes for it–or a foundation. There’s usually a lot of activism and a lot of fraught conversations about design, location, the story it should tell about what happened, and who it affected. 

Chris Colin: And ideally, there’s a whole nother set of conversations about whose perspectives are being reflected and whose are being distorted and what unspoken agendas are embedding themselves in the project. 

Marianne Hirsch: When you discuss a memorial or when you conceive a memorial, sometimes the most productive part of it is the discussion itself. 

Chris Colin: This is Marianne Hirsh, a Columbia professor who does a lot of work in memory studies and how we remember cultural trauma. 

Marianne Hirsch: Because that is where we try to figure out as a community or as a set of communities what happened and how we want to remember it–but also how we want to remember it for the future. 

Roman Mars: There are more than 48,000 monuments and memorials in this country. And as we’ve all learned in recent years, that can very well mean 48,000 arguments about what they should and shouldn’t be commemorating. 

Marianne Hirsch: Well, it’s an interesting time to discuss this question because we’re in the midst of memory wars in this country, right? Our monuments and memorials have become sites of contestation, and some of them are being dismantled even as we speak. 

Chris Colin: How to remember, what to remember, how to grieve, how to grieve accurately… If at this point, you’re still struck that Kristin Urquiza, a regular person working out of her apartment in San Francisco, must wade through all these massive historic considerations–yeah–take a number because as Kristin began asking around, she realized that she was it. There was no one else at the government or individual level working on a Covid memorial of the magnitude she imagined. 

Kristin Urquiza: There is no concentrated public commitment to commemorating the tragedy of the deadliest disease that’s hit the U.S. Like, I can’t even wrap my head around that. 

Chris Colin: But she also did wrap her head around it. And by July of 2020–just four months after the country shut down–Kristin and her partner, Christine Keeves, had launched a national nonprofit. It was called Marked By Covid. Soon, there was a Facebook page and a website and outreach to public officials and organizing efforts with everyone they could find. 

Roman Mars: At their kitchen table, they corresponded with hundreds and then thousands of bereaved people. They helped them write obituaries and help them place those obituaries and raise money to pay for those obituaries. They called mayors and talked with reporters all over the world. And when there was a free moment, they looked even further down the road. 

Chris Colin: Two big ideas bubbled up. One, to create a federally recognized Covid Memorial Day–the first Monday in March–and two, to establish a permanent national Covid memorial. Soon, they were drafting a policy statement and meeting with Congress members. But a weird dynamic emerged. Marked By Covid was becoming the biggest, most organized memorialization effort in the country. But at the same time, they were also the underdog in this project. As Kristin explained to me over tea one day, a grassroots operation like theirs is at a structural disadvantage in the world of memorialization. 

Kristin Urquiza: So, for example, the Mellon Foundation–they have an incredible Monuments program. They are By Invitation Only. So, who are the folks that are in positions to be able to be By Invitation Only to a really elite institution like the Mellon Foundation? It’s going to be folks who are academics. It’s going to be people who have already received funding or people within their extended networks. 

Chris Colin: This kind of thing–it irked Kristin, but it didn’t discourage her. Partly, that’s just not on her dropdown menu of options as a person. But it’s also something bigger. Marked By Covid’s vision for this memorial was growing. It was becoming so huge that any obstacle seemed tiny by comparison. The idea wasn’t just to offer solace in the face of this unimaginably vast catastrophe. They wanted to take the reins of how society collectively remembers the pandemic altogether. 

Roman Mars: We have memorials to commemorate a huge variety of shared experiences. We memorialize wars, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, famines, and riots. 

Chris Colin: There are memorials to lost fishermen, lost astronauts, even lost members of Lynyrd Skynyrd. There isn’t a Civil War skirmish that hasn’t been carved into marble somewhere. 

Roman Mars: But if you’re setting out to make one of those memorials, what should it say? And how should it say it? That was the central issue facing Marked By Covid as they set out on their quest. 

Chris Colin: As it happened, Kristin had an old friend from college, Sarah Senk, who had become a literature professor with a focus on memory and trauma. This is a person who makes a living thinking about how people remember and make sense of big, horrible events. She also shared Kristin’s conviction that this horrible event needed a new approach altogether. So, when Kristin realized she was going to be the Department of Memorialization, she asked Sarah to pitch in. 

Sarah Senk (field tape): Go around the block. 

Chris Colin (field tape): You saw it? 

Sarah Senk (field tape): Yeah. I can see one of the beams. 

Chris Colin: On a nippy Wednesday morning, I drive up to Napa, California with Sarah to check out a more recent memorial. I want to see firsthand how her plaque reading brain works. We get out of the car and walk past a Starbucks to a small, park-like area just off Main Street. 

Chris Colin (field tape): All right. What are we looking at here? 

Sarah Senk (field tape): Well, we are looking at… From this angle, I see five different pieces of steel vertically aligned. And it looks like there are four panes of glass. 

Chris Colin: Looming above us is what I suppose could pass for generic public art. Except you just know instantly what those steel beams are–where they came from. We’re standing in the Napa 9/11 Memorial Garden. 

Sarah Senk (field tape): One thing that I think is really interesting is the way they vertically align them. It puts you in a position of, like, craning your neck upwards to look. And a lot of the 9/11 memorials do this. They put you in the position of, like, a witness on the day. 

Chris Colin: For the next half hour or so, I get a crash course in commemoration. The way subtle aesthetic or wording decisions can tip the way you think about an event, which in turn can tip bigger things–how the country does or doesn’t heal from that event, or how it goes on to respond to that event. At one point, Sarah comes across an inscription on the memorial. 

Sarah Senk (field tape): And it’s described as “a place of reflection meant to inspire us to continue to express this courage, caring, and compassion our world experienced that day.” That word “our world” really pops out to me because that’s definitely not including the perpetrators of this attack or anyone who sympathizes with them…

Chris Colin: This is the close reading mind you want if you’re going to create a memorial of your own because grief, memory, commemoration–these are basic and straightforward concepts only until you give them even a moment’s thought. Let’s say you want to memorialize September 11th. Step one is deciding what exactly you want future generations to remember. The 2,977 people who were killed that day–yes, of course. But then you have to decide what you want to remember about them exactly. And what about the broader significance of 9/11? Shouldn’t that be part of what we reflect on? 

Roman Mars: And broader significance for whom? And how do you capture the horror of that day, without–say–slipping into support for the foreign policy that grew out of it? 

Chris Colin: And by the way, how long are we supposed to remember things in the first place? Should we have memorials to the Babylonian revolt? Those were real people, too–according to my research. Anyway, back in Napa, Sarah and I discussed the message encoded into this and other 9/11 memorials. One message, of course, is “never forget.”

Sarah Senk (field tape): The irony of “never forget” is that what we were never forgetting was actually a carefully crafted narrative–unconsciously or consciously–about being attacked by external forces. And it was kind of a classic revenge narrative in a way. 

Chris Colin: Memorials tend to commemorate events that are clear and dramatic–maybe even a little cinematic. But with Covid, there was no heroic battle. No towers came down. No beach was stormed. The awfulness happened quietly in ICUs and in bedrooms, where no cameras were rolling, where no searing collective visuals formed. In other words, on top of everything else, the pandemic has been narratively inconvenient. 

Roman Mars: Three years into Covid, we have no consensus around what kind of story we got routed through because really, it’s a story of many things, including resilience, fear, isolation, and lost jobs and time. 

Chris Colin: It’s also a story about the fragility of our institutions and the way the pandemic and George Floyd braided together–and about the long-term impact on our kids. Given all of that, I asked Sarah what she wants the Covid memorial central narrative to be. 

Sarah Senk (field tape): I don’t think it matters what I want it to be. I think the whole purpose of the project is to say that these narratives should not be shaped by people like me, they should be shaped by the people who are the most directly impacted. 

Chris Colin: From the beginning, this idea was central to the Marked By Covid ethos. Kristin and everyone else involved wanted their remembrance project to be democratic not top-down. They wanted it to include the voices most devastated by the disease, not just the most inconvenienced. Already, you can sense a certain strain of pandemic memory gaining currency in certain circles. The ways we went kind of stir crazy, how we missed seeing our friends, how we had to wash our groceries for a while… 

Sarah Senk (field tape): We were brainstorming about this, and we were like, “This cannot be committed to national memory as the time that we all couldn’t find f***ing yeast.” Right?

Chris Colin: She told me later, “This can’t be a sourdough memorial.”

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Roman Mars: By the fall of 2021, the Marked By Covid community had grown into the thousands. They’d held countless focus groups to begin surfacing ideas for a memorial. 

Chris Colin: Initially, people were excited about something like Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C. But a government official calculated that given how many people had died of Covid, it would have to wrap around the National Mall 52 times. 

Roman Mars: So that was out. Names somberly carved into stone weren’t going to cut it. But from all their conversations, a number of things had become clear. For one, Marked By Covid wanted to create a memorial that actually centered the voices of the grieving. 

Kristin Urquiza: What we’ve learned is that that validation of loss is such an essential piece of keeping people going, myself included. That matters. And if you look at other crises, there is always a moment that we come together to reflect. 

Chris Colin: It’s been estimated that for every person lost to Covid nine or ten severely bereaved individuals are left in their wake. 

Roman Mars: So many of the people suffering that loss never got to attend a funeral or even say a proper goodbye to their fathers, mothers, spouses, or children. So, one of the top requests from the community was that this memorial be a place that everyone could visit in person. 

Chris Colin: And there needed to be faces and personalized language about those loved ones. 

Roman Mars: But even within this self-selected group, it wasn’t easy to find something that worked for everyone, to say nothing of the larger country. 

Jay Block: I don’t have a problem doing a Covid memorial. You want to do a Covid memorial? Fine.

Chris Colin: That’s Jay Block, Republican gubernatorial candidate for New Mexico in 2022, and now Sandoval County commissioner. 

Jay Block: But why are we talking about all the memorials to the different issues going on here with, you know, high crime, people getting killed in the streets here, and our young people dying of drugs? 

Chris Colin: And actually, Block did have a problem doing a Covid memorial. In late 2022, some Marked By Covid members in New Mexico began working with local officials to create a state level version of the memorial on land near Albuquerque. When the project went up for a vote, Block voted against it. He didn’t like its message. So, I asked what he thinks the Covid memorial should say. 

Jay Block: “I’m sorry that I forced you to get a vaccine that didn’t protect you from Covid and didn’t prevent you from spreading Covid or you lost your job. I’m sorry the vaccine caused heart issues in you. I’m sorry I shut your schools down and caused your children so many issues as well.” That’s what I would like. 

Chris Colin: That’s going to take a lot of chiseling. 

Jay Block: It’s going to be a lot of chiseling. 

Chris Colin: For every Jay Block there are 80 million other Jay Blocks. As recently as August, a third of all Americans believe the screamingly untrue claim that the Covid vaccines caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people. 

Roman Mars: And this is where things get even more complex because if Marked By Covid hopes to memorialize what the pandemic meant for us, one very central aspect of it can’t be overlooked: How Covid plunged us into a total inability to agree on basic facts. 

Chris Colin: Which also happened to be a problem for a memorial because a national memorial ultimately boils down to a national agreement about the meaning of an event. On the day in March that Marked By Covid hopes will become a national Covid Memorial Day, I take myself to the mall–the Westfield Mall in downtown San Francisco. I spend the day asking regular people what they think about this holiday, which turns into just generally asking about Covid since nobody has even heard of this holiday. 

Woman #2: We have done our best to move on, so I don’t believe it warrants a memorial day. 

Teen: I’m kind of over it, you know? Like, I hope, like, we can, like, find a solution to, like, no longer have to wear a mask because I know it’s definitely, like, affecting people’s, like, self-esteem and everything. 

Woman #3: It was prophesied in the Bible that this is going to happen because it mentions pestilences. And that’s what Covid was. 

Chris Colin: What civilizational memory of the Covid-19 pandemic is supposed to cohere from all of that? On days like this, I find myself doubting that coherence is even a possibility. 

Roman Mars: And in the meantime, all the divisiveness and vitriol around Covid–it doesn’t just stymie conversations about the memorial itself. It amounts to a corrosive “eff you” from millions of bereaved people. 

Chris Colin: Kristin herself had to read countless messages telling her that her father’s death by Covid was essentially not real. Scholars call this “disenfranchised grief.” It’s when you’re mourning something that more and more people are saying is not really a thing. In Kristin’s case, she’s got enough fight in her to press on. But many of the people she needs to organize are tired of fighting. 

Kristin Urquiza: It is very demoralizing to constantly have to be defending why your loved one died and why it matters. And that, you know, helps to take the wind out of the sails. 

Chris Colin: In other words, that gaslighting isn’t just awful. It saps people’s willingness to share their stories. But Kristin is quick to point out that Democrats have thwarted the project, too–albeit in a different key.”

Roman Mars: Back in 2021, she flew to Washington, D.C. to meet with a special adviser to President Biden. She and a bunch of other bereaved people were sitting around a table with him, and she talked about how the government needed to do more to acknowledge and commemorate the lives that had been lost. 

Kristin Urquiza: And he was… I will never forget him sort of getting a little bit, like… I wouldn’t say “indignant,” but kind of, like, pulling in his breath a bit and just saying, “We cannot fight a war on Covid and remember the war at the same time. When the war is over, we can come out back and do that.”

Roman Mars: Kristin hears that one a lot from ostensible allies. “It’s too early.” She keeps a tally of every time Biden meets with families from a building collapse or a fire or other disaster. “Never,” she says, “has he had this kind of dedicated meeting with the Covid bereaved.” 

Chris Colin: While reporting this piece, I periodically had to wait for my own waves of sputtering outrage to pass. Having to fight to remember the biggest loss of life we’ve ever experienced? What? But if I’m honest, I couldn’t help wondering how much wind was in my own sails at times. More and more, I found myself doing a funny kind of Covid code-switching. One minute, I’d be appalled by politicians proclaiming the evil of mask mandates. The next minute, I couldn’t remember the last time I wore one myself. Talking to the Marked By Covid folks, I realized their biggest hurdle isn’t so much the deniers and the anti-vaxxers and whatnot. It’s the rest of us who increasingly don’t want to think about it at all. 

Kristin Urquiza: After I spoke at the DNC, I was everybody’s best friend. And since August of 2020 or November of 2020, it’s been this slow decline of people supporting what I have to say because people want to move on. 

Roman Mars: This desire to move on from world-shaking diseases isn’t totally unique to Covid. For whatever reason, pandemics sit at the very top of our willful amnesia pyramid. When was the last time you saw a memorial to the Spanish flu of 1918? It killed 50 million people. For this, we get a small granite bench in Barry, Vermont, installed by husband-and-wife restaurant owners in 2018.

Marianne Hirsch: So, we remember wars. We remember earthquakes. We remember bombings. We remember revolutions, right? But we do not remember massive loss due to health questions and pandemics.

Chris Colin: That’s Marianne Hirsch again. 

Marianne Hirsch: So, one concern was this level of forgetting that we saw before but also the urge always to normalize–to move on–the tremendous failures of our institutions that were being revealed, and how we thought they would want to cover them over and not really address why it got to be so bad because it didn’t actually have to be so bad. 

Roman Mars: For more than two years, the Marked By Covid team had been battling D.C. bureaucrats, the Jay Blocks of the world, and the general public’s fatigue and inertia. They had considered and discarded various memorial designs. But finally, they’d settled on one that satisfied everything they wanted the memorial to do. It admitted many voices. It invited participation. 

Chris Colin: And it involved a partnership with Snapchat. Way back in the midst of all those design discussions, a classmate of Kristin’s had introduced Marked By Covid to folks at the tech company. When I heard they eventually hammered out a partnership–I’m not going to lie–my heart sank a bit. A slick tech company seemed a million miles away from the homespun, insurgent vibe that Kristin and Christine and Sarah and the others had created. But mostly, my heart was happy they’d gotten this far. I booked myself a ticket to LA because I was finally going to see this memorial for myself. I’m standing outside the entrance to this massive old LA cemetery. Under some palm trees, there’s a patch of fake grass that the Marked By Covid folks have claimed right next to a very noisy Santa Monica Boulevard. I’m here for the unveiling of a prototype–a memorial focused on people who died from Covid here in LA. It’s the kind of memorial that Marked By Covid wants to build all around the country–and a smaller version of the kind it ultimately wants to sit on the National Mall. Over the next hour, the area fills with volunteers from the organization, curious onlookers, and mostly people who’ve lost someone to Covid. 

Lucy Esparza Casares: My husband and I used to read the newspaper in the morning together. And he was the only guy I knew that actually would laugh out loud at the comics. He was! And he was a great guy. 

Chris Colin: That was Lucy Esparza Casares. And this is Jennifer Torres Kowalski. 

Jennifer Torres Kowalski: My daughter was Guinevere Julianne Artemis Kowalski. She was born June 6th, 2005. 

Chris Colin: Guinevere played the clarinet and the viola and the French horn. She taught herself to crochet and would give away her creations to siblings and her friends. She was just deeply sweet. Her mom used to jokingly remind her that if a stranger pulled up in a van, she was not to get in. She was that trusting. One day they thought she was having an asthma flare up from smoke from nearby fires. It was Covid. Weeks later, she was in a hospital bed, aged 16. 

Jennifer Torres Kowalski: Luckily, because she was a child, we all got to be with her when we let her go. So, I got to crawl into bed with her for a final time and my son and daughter–younger and older. And they got to hold her hands. And we all got to be with her as she went in. And it was just… It was… It was really quick. 

Chris Colin: We milled around like this for a while. And then everyone took seats in folding chairs arranged on the fake grass. Kristin Urquiza stepped up to a podium. 

Kristin Urquiza (field tape): I’m so excited to be here with you all today, to be able to share with you a project that we’ve been working on since that day: The National Covid Memorial. 

Chris Colin: Not the whole National Covid Memorial, to be clear, but a prototype featuring some of those lost just in the LA area–like Fiona, who lost her mom early on in it and found Kristin on Facebook. She sent her a message saying, “I don’t know what is going on, but what you are doing is the only thing that makes sense.”

Kristin Urquiza (field tape): So, after Fiona, there was then Carly, after Carly was Caitlyn, and Caitlyn was Tara. And then Jeffrey and Lucy and countless other people came forward to say, “We cannot forget.”

Roman Mars: Behind Kristin sat a round plinth, designed by the LA artist Marcos Lutyens. Nothing was on it–just a big, empty circle, shin-high and maybe 20 ft across. After she and others gave remarks, Chris and the other attendees started milling around again and pointing their phones at that plinth. 

Chris Colin: To experience the memorial, I have to finally download Snapchat for the first time in my life. 

Chris Colin (field tape): No. Can’t have my contacts. Can’t send me notifications. 

Chris Colin: I find a special lens within the app. 

Chris Colin (field tape): “Marked By Covid.” There it is. 

Chris Colin: And then point my phone at the plinth. 

Chris Colin (field tape): Okay. I’m holding– Oh, Jesus. I’m seeing hundreds of little, tiny photographs swirling clockwise and upwards, like a DNA helix. And there’s all these little, rectangular photos–just hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them–swirling up into the sky. And I can touch one. Oh, my God. And it brings a photo–an individual photo–forward to me. 

Chris Colin: Lord, I will never, ever doubt Snapchat again. Using augmented reality–that’s the same technology that paints the yellow first-down line on a televised football game–Marked By Covid has created an infinitely expandable, shockingly human take on memorialization. 

Chris Colin (field tape): Oh Jesus. “Dr. Gay Griffin Snyder, we miss you. Hope you’re keeping an eye on us and seeing these boys grow.”

Chris Colin: It’s hard to convey how beautiful this vortex of photos and obituaries is. I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, surrounded by noble statues and somber slabs. So often the actual humanity and the complexity and the heartbreak behind those memorials felt distant, bloodless, and history bookish. The Marked By Covid Memorial is the opposite of that. 

Chris Colin (field tape): “Beau Yazzi. Beau was willing to help anyone in need. He loved his son very, very much.” 

Chris Colin: Using your phone to experience these remembrances isn’t alienating, as I’d feared. It’s powerfully fitting, given how these devices were often the last point of contact for those who are losing someone. For so many, Kristin included, these impersonal gadgets–they were a lifeline when the hospital kept you out. They were how you held hands. They were your desperate kiss goodbye. So, it’s weirdly touching that they’re central to this memorial. And then you switch off the app, and the whole thing vanishes. For the next hour, I watched people take in this prototype–absorb what it could mean on a national level. It is profound. At the same time, we are a relatively small group of random people near a car wash and an AutoZone and a plumbing supply store, gathered for something that most people just aren’t thinking about. 

Roman Mars: As they have from the beginning, the Marked By Covid folks zoom every week with those in grief. They maintain an archive of any other Covid memorial they hear about, no matter how small or makeshift. And they’re pitching states across the country, trying to get them interested in local memorials like the one Chris just saw in LA. 

Chris Colin: But that permanent national Covid memorial remains their biggest challenge not least because of all the stories of loss they still need to collect. 

Kristin Urquiza: We are on a quest to find everyone. 

Chris Colin: Where it will live and when it will be done–nobody knows. But they press on because they have to–because no one else anywhere understands the angles better or deeper. Over the year I spent with Marked By Covid, something became very clear to me. Whether they’re commemorating doughboys or pandemics, the makers of memorials possess a dark and penetrating wisdom. Maybe more than any of us, they understand the awful truth that no matter how colossally world shaking some tragedy is–no matter how unforgettable–we will absolutely forget it if something or someone doesn’t stop us. 

Roman Mars: 99% Invisible was reported this week by Chris Colin, and produced and edited by Delaney Hall, with additional editing by Jayson De Leon. Mix and sound design by Martín Gonzalez. Music by Swan Real. Fact-checking by Graham Hacia. Special thanks this week to Marcos Lutyens, Tara Krebbs, Zac Zavala, Karlee Greer, Fiana Tulip, DJ Arsene Versailles, and the rest of the Marked By Covid community. Kathy Tu is our executive producer. Kurt Kohlstedt is our digital director. The rest of the team includes Chris Berube, Emmett FitzGerald, Christopher Johnson, Vivian Le, Lasha Madan, Joe Rosenberg, Gabriella Gladney, Kelly Prime, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Sarah Baik, and me, Roman Mars. The 99% Invisible logo was created by Stefan Lawrence. We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM Podcast Family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora building… in beautiful… uptown… Oakland, California. If you haven’t already done so, you should pick up a copy of The Power Broker by Robert Caro and join our yearlong Power Broker Book Club. New episodes of the 99% Invisible Breakdown of The Power Broker, hosted by me and Elliott Kalan, will drop monthly right here in this feed. It is so much fun. I hope you can join us. You can find us on all the usual social media, and we just started up the 99PI Discord server. Come join me and the rest of the staff to talk about The Power Broker, you know, what you’ve been reading, architecture, recommendations, books, podcasts you’re listening to–anything as long as it is, you know, fun and nice. You can find a link to that, as well as every past episode of 99PI at 99pi.org. 

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