A year ago, we didn't know what was coming. It was unimaginable that we would shut ourselves in our homes to hide from a highly contagious virus that could kill us.
But that's what we did. And in the past 12 months (did we ever think this would last a year?), it has certainly killed many of us. Half a million and counting just in the U.S. People have become intimate with loss - loss of family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, teachers. But also loss of businesses they owned, loss of income, loss of a way of life.
This week, a nationwide movement gives us a way to express our collective grief. The Floral Heart Project designated March 1 as a National Day of Mourning by laying 100 floral hearts in public spaces from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon.
In Atlanta, Jessica Neese (@jessicadneese), who owns the design build landscaping company In Bloom, and a micro flower farm in Scottdale, volunteered to create a floral heart and lay it on the Atlanta BeltLine, at the North Avenue bridge. The arrangement was "farmed and found," Neese says. Flowers were donated by 1-800-Flowers, and Neese foraged greenery from a friend's farm in Lithonia. She worked on the project with several other volunteers: Christi Brittian, Kelly Moore, Brooke Gault and Claire Abel.
She says people asked her to start selling flowers from her farm because especially during the pandemic, flowers make people happy.
"The loss of life, it's been such a tragic piece of our history. There's no one that hasn't been affected by COVID. Everyone's life has changed," Neese says.
"I've always grown flowers because they make me happy. Creating an art piece out of flowers, it just spoke to me," Neese said.
She chose the BeltLine for the location because of its high traffic, and also because during lockdown, people were able to attain some normalcy by being outside together.
"It was a place of refuge," she says. "It was a space that connected so many people all over the city."
Decorated with roses, hydrangea, carnations, Queen Anne's lace and greenery such as eucalyptus, fatsia berries, boxwood and smilax, the heart is framed by a view of the Atlanta skyline.
The Floral Heart Project was created by New York artist Kristina Libby (@lightvslight) to create memorials for those lost to COVID.
"I didn't start out to create a nationwide effort. I laid a heart because I was grieving and I wanted to do something to recognize our losses," Kristina Libby said in a press release.
According to the press release:
"The project has grown with support from 1-800-Flowers.com, as well as BloomStudios and hundreds of volunteers nationwide. Communities are encouraged to continue to lay floral hearts after March 1st and to reach out to participate in future activities including efforts to create living memorial gardens and permanent memorial installations."
The floral heart will be on display on the Atlanta BeltLine only until Thursday, March 4.
What does Neese want people to take away from the memorial?
"We're all in this together," she says. "You're not alone. Everyone is struggling in their different ways. It takes a community to get through tragedy."
An Atlanta native, Nicole Gustin is the Founder & CEO of BiteLines, which offers walking food tours on the Atlanta BeltLine. She considers the BeltLine her backyard, and is excited to see how Atlanta is reinventing itself. The BiteLines blog features art, restaurants, happenings and weirdness on the Atlanta BeltLine. Share story ideas and pics at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow on Instagram @bitelinesatl.
Note: We have paused our tours during the pandemic, but will ramp up again as soon as it’s safe.