‘You’re not alone’: Online vigil marks COVID-19 anniversary in Sask.

Karla Combres says the night before the first COVID-19 lockdown last year, her husband was in Nipawin for a meeting with 100 people.

“He came home that night and I said, you know what? I don’t think you should go to work tomorrow,” Combres told CBC’s Saskatchewan Weekend. “It was as quick as that. You know, like, from one day to the next, it was unthinkable to gather with that many people.”

Combres is a life cycle celebrant in Saskatoon and one of the organizers of an online vigil being held this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. CST to mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic.

The vigil is called Together in Remembrance, Together in Hope, and it was organized by Saskatoon’s multi-faith community, but Combres said everyone is welcome.

“For anybody coming to this, no grief is too big or too small,” she said. “This is really for everyone, no matter what your race or your creed or your colour or your age or where you are in the province.”

Her work centres around gathering people and in the early days of the pandemic, she said she wasn’t sure how she was going to be able to continue doing that in a meaningful way.

“Over the course of the past year, I have found ways through researching and participating in gatherings and then also through just really learning and being creative on my own with the people I work with,” she said.

Saskatchewan Weekend14:51Together in Remembrance, Together in Hope

Thursday marks the one year anniversary since the WHO declared a global pandemic. To mark the occasion, a diverse group of people are hosting a free online vigil. Host Shauna Powers speaks with organizers Blake Sittler and Karla Combres. 14:51

Gatherings are smaller and people join via livestream but it is still possible to connect, she said, and she hopes people will find that with the vigil as well.

Combres had the idea for a vigil but she said it was Blake Sittler who got the ball rolling initially to mark the anniversary. 

Sittler is the executive director of Saskatoon’s Roman Catholic chaplaincy and another organizer of the vigil.

He and his wife were celebrating their 25th anniversary in New York before the pandemic hit, arriving home only a few days before the first case was found there.

“We went back to work for a day or two and on Friday, I grabbed my laptop and I said, you know, I’m going to take this laptop home in case I need to stay home for a few days and a few days turned into a full year working in my basement,” he said.

A person in a face mask walks through an almost empty Times Square in New York City as the COVID-19 outbreak pandemic continues. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Sittler said the goal of the event was to represent as many of the different communities in the province as possible, echoing the provincial motto, “From many peoples strength.”

“We knew we wanted to mark the day because humans do try to make meaning of their lives through ritual,” Sittler said. 

He said the vigil is not a religious event but instead an opportunity to bring people together so they feel less alone.

“You’re not alone in your mourning, you know, you’re not alone in the jobs you lost, your fear, the loneliness, the isolation.… And at the same time, now that the vaccines are coming out, we also wanted to let them know that they aren’t alone in their hope.”

Sittler said he’ll be thinking of people in special care and long-term care homes who have been isolated throughout the pandemic, as well as the workers in those facilities.

“These are folks who have built up this province and have spent their life serving their community and their kids,” he said. “It’s like being in isolation in a prison. And some of them even asked that question is like, what did we do wrong that this is happening?”

Sittler said he wanted to put an event together where people could gather and say, ‘I’m not crazy for being sad and I’m not crazy for being hopeful.’ (Supplied by Shirley Larkin/White Coat Black Art)

The event will have greetings from representatives from different traditions. A front-line worker will speak about their experience, and there will also be poetry and music. The event also invites everyone to bring a candle to light.

“People know what it means to light a candle in the window, you know, for the weary traveler to just find their way through the darkness,” Sittler said. “And that’s what this is, to light a candle, to give people hope to say that we’re in this together.”

The event is free but you need to register at covidvigil.ca. You can join on Zoom, and it will also be livestreamed to YouTube.

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