On the 23rd of March 2021, we all collectively had the opportunity to pause, to reflect as part of a National Day. It allowed us a moment to remember and recall how life as we knew it was put on hold, how freedom that most of us were accustomed to was removed and lost. It afforded a minute to fall silent in respect to those 144 thousand plus souls tragically taken from their loving families, partners and communities.
The purpose of the National Day of Reflection was to reflect on those individuals and communities that rallied around to support those in need and those most vulnerable. We remembered all those NHS, care worker, nurses and doctors who strived, as always to give everything they had to protect us. We gave thanks to all those who sacrificed their time and in some case their health to keep the country moving, both physically and mentally, in affording us at least the luxury of shopping online. We STOPPED to pay tribute to those who not only died during and because of Covid but also to offer support to the family, friends, colleagues and communities who had their loved ones ripped from their lives in the hardest of ways.
It gave a little time to examine our personal and societal attitude to not only what we have been through over the past year in the UK but also how our perspective of the day-to-day changed and depend on who you are and how we were affect changed people behaviour to the pandemic.
We saw the optimists, believing it would be a fleeting virus that would be eradicated quickly. We hear the conspiracists blame countries, individuals and cultures. We read about non-believers who choose to look blindly as their immediate circle and ignore the evidence. We felt the pessimists whose worry was closest to the direction the country took, and we saw the media and government who led with statistics, numbers and cut all emotion from the conversation.
Alleviating suffering and grief
The reason The Forest of Memories joined the collective of voice who wanted to raise awareness in the months leading up to the national day was that we have been desperately trying to commemorate those who died, not only because of the Covid-19 virus but also to remember those who died during the pandemic, to remember that because we were unable to offer the support and healthcare our great country would have provided, they joined the unfortunately long list of lives taken too soon.
It has always been our aim to offer a beautiful reminder of those people and this time we have lived through. We understood the importance of moving away from the cold and harsh statue or a traditional monument in favour of giving a life for a life. Offering to grow a tree for each person, each loved on lost during Covid. The symbolic representation of the tree meaning both life and hope is a poetic sentiment, and this allure only deepens when you know that like a network of roots, they communicate to one another like humanity and our society, it seems even more right to mark this suffering with a community-led tree planting project like The Forest of Memories.
We wanted this memorial or forest to perform two distinct purposes: firstly, to serve to alleviate the suffering of those who had lost loved ones. To respect the people of the fallen in the planting of a fitting living monument, extolling the sacrifices given as a focal point of grief and mourning in local communities. Secondly, to think differently about what remembrance should mean now and for future generations. To understand that collective mourning will be relatively short-lived but having a network of Forest of Memories across the country will allow other positive messages to be shared and remembered. Furthermore, by integrating technology we can allow families to share stories, give thanks and offer them a place to archive their emotions and feelings, that can be recalled in the future to truly remember who they were and what they meant to those they left.
Attitudes to commemoration are not static
Commemorative practices are largely positive in western society, it offers time and space to consider and contemplate, but these behaviors have remained practically unchanged over the past 100+ years. We have a day dictated or choose a specific day, and we collectively show or don’t show our solidarity by wearing or giving something to symbolise that loss or cause and to be part of an appreciation or reflection together.
We obviously saw this as part of The National Day of Reflection, where we took that minute to reflect, we wore yellow daffodils and hearts and families contributed with yellow hearts displays, candles and ribbons. The campaign saw support from Royals, celebrities and government, and that in itself might have been what prevented it from making the impact it should have seen. The perception was that those people who simply jumped on at the 11th hour were only there to be seen to be ‘doing the right thing’, it contradicted actions and conversations that had been voiced. It seemed that people wanted it for themselves and where we saw the most positive responses it was with families who were doing for their own closure, to offer them a voice back into the world where they haven’t been able to talk, scream or discuss how they were robbed.
We certainly felt this while we were tying and inviting local families to tie personalised yellow ribbons to the trees at the National Trust Runnymede. The team heard husbands, wife’s, sisters and friends speak about their tragedy, they spoke to us but more importantly, they spoke to each other, they allowed themselves to talk about their loss and offered space to grieve.
Photography: Veronika Ward
But the guess is, does it work? Do we still need that date, time and moment dictated to us? And when is the right time?.
All extremely complex and largely it is ordained by the requirements of the state, it is about the people’s attitudes and societies’ need for these events. Will COVID-19 and the 2020 pandemic give cause to remember, will it be a point that we continue to remember for generations to come? Well, time will be a considerable factor in this motivation to hold an annual day and focus specifically on the time we as a nation were put on hold.
While brief, I hope this piece demonstrates the fluid nature of our attitudes to commemoration in the 21st Century, and how these attitudes somewhat representative of wider societal change, and how memorialisation plays closely with the relationship between ourselves, our immediate circle, and increasingly the perception to the wider bubble, while always and together with the dissemination by the media in challenging or confirming this narrative.
The Forest of Memories has always put people at the root of our planning, it is why we paused for families on the 6th month anniversary, it is why we fell silent and asked for a moment to reflect on the 1st of January and why we felt it essential to join the anniversary of our lockdown to transitions into the next more positive steps into the future, but always supporting those who have been seemingly forgotten.
Unwavering in our aims, we still totally believe that The Forest of Memories is the right objective for our nation’s recovery, to build stronger and more meaningful relationships between humanity and nature through engagement and emotion-driven remembrance. It is critical that this project is truly a community-led initiative that will bring other charities, volunteers and organisations together for the betterment of our nation, now and for decades into the future.
To support this campaign please share what we are doing to anyone who might have lost someone close to them, please sign-up and express an interest in being part of the solution and importantly dedicate a tree at www.Memory-Trees.com.