When concerns about COVID-19 prompted New York state leaders to ban large gatherings last spring, many people were left trying to navigate the grieving process without traditions they’d come to rely upon for comfort, according to Joy Pierce, marketing director for Holy Sepulchre and Ascension Garden Cemeteries.
“People were at a loss for what to do in general. Everybody was kind of in a state of awe and panic, with just their lives being completely upturned,” she recalled.
The ban on gatherings, as well as concerns about being near people from outside of one’s own household, meant many who lost loved ones were unable to mourn with extended family members and friends at funerals, memorial services, calling hours or even simple visits. And in many cases family members also were unable to be with their loved ones who were hospitalized, even as the patients were dying.
After witnessing the heartbreak such people were enduring alone, staff members at Holy Sepulchre and Ascension Garden sought to find a way to ease the suffering of the bereaved.
“We had to get very creative in terms of how to assist people in their mourning and grieving when they’re unable to participate in their traditions in the way they’ve done in the past,” Pierce said. “We had to really think outside the box on how we could connect people who were grieving.”
In early May, cemetery staff launched the Green Ribbon Movement, a two-pronged initiative intended to encourage solidarity among those mourning the loss of loved ones. Cemetery staff provided pins in the shape of green ribbons to those in mourning and encouraged them to wear the pins as an outward sign of their loss.
Cemetery staff also encouraged grieving individuals to share the hashtag #greenribbonmovement when posting remembrances of their loved ones on social media. The hashtag has been used for a variety of causes in the past, Pierce said, and currently is being used by those grieving during the pandemic.
“This was just a way that people could share memories, stories and their feelings in a way that would connect them with other people going through the same things,” Pierce said.
Holy Sepulchre’s staff hope the digital and physical components of the Green Ribbon Movement will help create a sense of community among those who are grieving and unable to physically gather with others in similar situations, she added.
“While we can’t replicate the human-to-human touch, we can replicate how that might feel through digital platforms. We figured if we could touch a handful of people, if we could assist in their grieving process, then it would ultimately be worth it,” Pierce said.
Both components of the movement were well-received, Pierce said. By early September more than 650 pins had been distributed, and grieving individuals had begun to use the hashtag on various social media platforms, she added.
“We’ve had phenomenal feedback. We had a number of thank-you calls, and a number of individuals who actually shared on their social-media platforms both the green ribbon and also just how thankful they were that we offered this opportunity to them,” Pierce said.
Green Ribbon Movement participants have hailed from as far away as California, which is where the idea for the movement was born. Last spring while staff members were still brainstorming ways to help grieving individuals, Aurora Conti, Holy Sepulchre’s manager of family services and sales, learned about the Green Ribbon Tribute, which had recently been launched by Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
The California tribute featured green ribbons tied onto a cemetery fence in honor of families that had lost loved ones but couldn’t be together, according to Branden O’Neil, chief marketing officer for Green Hills Memorial Park. Families also were encouraged to tie green ribbons on fences, mailboxes, porches and front doors at their own homes, he said.
“We also put a solar flame light with a green ribbon attached and placed it at the grave site. The families got to take the light home when they were ready,” O’Neil said.
Much like the local Green Ribbon Movement, the Green Ribbon Tribute was born out of the staff’s deep sorrow for the families who’d lost loved ones but were unable to mourn together, he explained.
“Through the lockdown, the power to choose what we can offer our families was taken out of our hands, which resulted in us having to tell our families no to a lot of things. This was deeply disturbing for our team members, so to find things that we could do that was unexpected and appreciated by the families became top of mind,” O’Neil said.