Irving Woman Sets Up Memorial in Honor of COVID-19 Victims After Her Mom Died From the Virus

The Yellow Heart Memorial at Irving Archives and Museum serves as a visual reminder that behind every coronavirus statistic, there was a person

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It's been eight months since Rosie Davis lost her mother to COVID-19. Not a day goes by where she doesn't think about the woman who raised her.

"She was the most loving and caring nurse, she had so many patients that adored her," said Davis about her mother, Mary Castro, a retired nurse of 18 years.

Castro, 75, became sick with the coronavirus in May while living in a nursing home. She was admitted to the hospital and five days later, died on May 17.

"Mother's Day would be the last time that I saw my mom," said Davis

Davis' pain led her on a path to find a way to mend her broken heart. She searched for support and found a New Jersey artist who gave her a unique way to mourn her mother's death.

Hannah Ernst, 16, draws portraits of people who have died from COVID-19. She started a Facebook page called Faces of Covid Victims.

Hannah Ernst, 16, honored Rosie Davis' mother, Mary Castro, in a personalized drawing.

"My mom had just gotten a new iPad and so I just started drawing and I ended up creating my grandpa's, I guess Memorial, and my mom took that image and she put it on a COVID support group," said Ernst.

The pandemic became personal for her back in May, when her grandfather died of COVID-19 at the age of 83.

Her grandpa, Cal Schoenfeld, was born in Brooklyn, loved his city and was also an abstract painter. She reflected on the fond memories of visiting his studio in Brooklyn. Ernst said her work reminds her of him.

"In a way I feel like I am also remembering him through every memorial I do, just because it is art so it is to a degree, a tribute to him and everything I do," said Ernst.

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The teen said she saw the impact it had visually and continued drawing other people's loved ones. She was also motivated because she didn't feel like people, her age and older, were taking the virus seriously.

"I was just thinking of having an Instagram page where people just kept scrolling and they just keep seeing yellow, because that's the symbol of COVID-19. I thought that that would be a little more drastic or a little more impactful than just seeing the constant reminder of the numbers on TV," said Ernst about humanizing the numbers.

In October Davis reached back out to Ernst with the idea of bringing the online portraits to life. She wanted a way to keep her mom's memory alive along with others experiencing the same grief.

Davis asked the teen's mother for permission and set up a Memorial of Ernst's artwork in her backyard. But Davis wanted it to be bigger, and bring more awareness, so she contacted the City of Irving.

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"They really got behind me and they were very supportive and pushed through all of the red tape and got us the museum," explained Davis.

Over the weekend the Yellow Heart Memorial exhibit debuted at the Irving Archives and Museum.

It features 206 of Ernst's portraits that have been printed out. Alongside them are the names of people who died from COVID-19 on yellow hearts.

The goal, to keep people's memories alive.

"We don't want our loved ones to just be drowned out in a number. We don't want them to just be forgotten, and we're trying to humanize these numbers because these are lives. These are people that had plans for tomorrow, and they're not here anymore," said Davis.

She places the hearts on the wall herself, which is located in the lobby.

"When I'm there putting hearts up. I can hear employees walking through and, you know, just for instance like one employee was like, 'Every time I pass this wall, like my heart breaks, like it's so sad to see how many names are up here, how many pictures are up here.' But as sad as it is, this is our reality right now, our reality every day, you know, and our numbers are getting higher," said Davis.

She said there are more than 1,000 hearts and the requests continue to come in.

The exhibit will stay up through the end of the month. Davis said people are welcome to visit the exhibit and add a loved one's name to a yellow heart. She said people can also electronically submit a loved one's name.

One family even drove in from San Antonio to honor their loved ones who died from the disease.

"I'm just really grateful for Hannah, I'm grateful for her mom for making this happen you know, without her this would never be able to happen," said Davis. "We all have lost a loved one and we have to continue to fight to humanize these numbers."

More than 32,000 lives have been lost to COVID-19 in Texas. A group called Marked by COVID said it's working on another art display in Texas cities to honor those lives. They are also working with others across the country to encourage legislators to create a national memorial day recognizing the victims of COVID-19.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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