Valley Baptist Health System Honors Anniversary of COVID Pandemic with Community Remembrance Garden

Mar 24, 2021

HARLINGEN/BROWNSVILLE – A little more than one year ago, on March 19, 2020, the Cameron County Health Department announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley.

To mark the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Valley, Valley Baptist Health System has established a Garden of Remembrance in an effort to help residents grieve, reflect, and honor the many lives lost and the many sacrifices made by healthcare workers and local residents throughout the pandemic that has claimed more than 1,500 lives in Cameron County alone.

Joe Perez, vice president of mission & ministry for Valley Baptist Health System, said the new garden, which has been established outside of the Valley Baptist-Harlingen South Tower Lobby entrance, can play an important role in helping the community heal the wounds left behind by the COVID pandemic.

“This is an important space for the community. It values the healing process for all people who are suffering through grief. Learning to grieve well is one of the most important holistic health skills one can learn. And yet, many in the community do not honor this process by setting time limits on the process and by believing myths like ‘time heals all wounds,’” he said. “Time has never been the healing agent for those grieving, even as it does take time to heal. Healing only occurs when we give proper attention to our grieving process. Part of the proper attention is remembering the love shared with safe people and in a safe place. The Garden is meant to be a safe place.”

The symbolism of the remembrance garden, which features smooth river stones for each of the Cameron County lives lost during the pandemic, is rooted in the biblical message of using remembrance and memories for emotional and spiritual healing, Perez said.

“The idea for the Garden of Remembrance combines two concepts: the concept that remembering important things helps create and maintain value, and one of the ways of healing through grief is remembering. The value of remembering can be observed in the story of Joshua leading the Hebrews into the promise land after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years as a result of their being freed from slavery in Egypt,” he said. “Remembering their emancipation included all the losses that had happened between Egypt and the promise land, and it grounded the people to the reality of who they belonged to and who they were to become. Remembering these stories in relationship to God and each other helped them be grounded in a value based holistic life, also allowing them to make peace with losses that occurred along the way.”

Perez stressed that because the community and healthcare teams have faced the challenges and losses of the COVID pandemic together, the garden is not only accessible to Valley Baptist employees, but to all Cameron County residents seeking a place to grieve and perhaps find emotional healing.

“Valley Baptist has been a community based hospital from its inception, almost 100 years ago. It continues that same mission. When our community struggles, as in a pandemic, so does the community at Valley Baptist. We struggle both professionally and personally. Professionally, we are here to take care of the most vulnerable people of this community; so when the county/community struggles with health, we are called to attend to the needs of all who come to us,” he said. “And we struggle personally as well, as our family and friends and our Valley Baptist colleagues have suffered with COVID, and some have died. So, we walk in step with this community we serve. And we are honored to live out this service to the community as one of our highest values.”

In addition to the new remembrance garden, Heroes Reflection Gardens have been established at both Valley Baptist-Brownsville and Valley Baptist-Harlingen in an effort to create quiet, outdoor spaces for both employees and local residents. In Brownsville, the reflection garden is near the hospital’s administration building. In Harlingen, the garden has been established near the former Magnolia Grille entrance to the East Tower Lobby.

White the gardens offer an outdoor setting for quiet reflection, their creation is also to honor Valley Baptist Health System employees who were also victims of the COVID pandemic. Both spaces were established with the support of the Valley Baptist-Harlingen and Valley Baptist-Brownsville Auxiliaries.

“The Auxiliary's purpose is ‘to provide care and comfort to hospital patients and families, as well as to provide educational and emergency assistance to medical professionals and support personnel,’” said Katie McCarty, director of volunteer services for Valley Baptist Health System. “The Auxiliary wanted to honor our staff in a special way — to pay tribute to those who lost their lives caring for others and to show support for their continued courageous efforts. For decades, the Auxiliaries have supported various hospital causes. Honoring our Valley Baptist healthcare heroes is yet another way to show our support of the hospital's mission of a Community Built on Care.”

For more information on the Garden of Remembrance, contact Valley Baptist Pastoral Services at 956-389-1194.

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