ONE by one, the names were read out at Wednesday’s memorial service: 11 in all, residents of the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre who had died from COVID-19 in the last 19 months.
One was Esther Shuster, mother of Brian Shuster.
For Brian Shuster, who attended the gathering in Winnipeg, it was good to see his mother and the others "honoured" by the centre, a personal care home for about 200 residents.
The service, which included the unveiling of a memorial stone marker, was "a chance to remember her," he said, noting Esther died almost exactly a year ago.
"It’s surreal she’s gone," Shuster said, after placing a stone on the marker located at the entrance to the facility.
"The staff here are an elite group of people for how they care for the residents," he added, noting he felt cared for through the service in honour of the residents who died due to the pandemic.
For Simkin Centre chief executive officer Laurie Cerqueti, it was an opportunity to mourn the dead in a way that wasn’t possible amid past COVID-19 restrictions on gathering.
"We felt this was the right thing to do," she said. "It was a significant way for people to remember the lives lost."
Rabbi Kliel Rose, of Winnipeg’s Congregation Etz Chayim, spoke at the service. He chanted in Hebrew and read in English from the Book of Psalms, encouraging mourners to, in the words of the Psalmist, lift their eyes to the hills where help from God comes from.
"We are pained by the void in our hearts" due to the deaths of loved ones in the pandemic, he said, but they "live in our memory."
The stone marker, which was donated by Larsen’s Memorials, was a "symbol of love and respect," he said.
After Rose’s remarks, representatives from each of the families placed a stone on the marker, a traditional Jewish custom for honouring and remembering the dead.
The placing of the stones, Rose said, shows those who died "still matter and left an indelible mark in our hearts for eternity."
The Simkin Centre, founded in 1915 as the Winnipeg Old Folks Jewish Home, opened its southwest facility in 2001. The centre has had a total of 30 cases of COVID-19 thus far in the pandemic.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.