When Lynda MacFarland’s 87-year-old father was moved from the COVID-19 ward to the intensive care unit at St. David’s Georgetown Hospital in Texas, she immediately was filled with dread. He had been struggling to breath and his situation continued to worsen over the next week. Eventually, MacFarland and her two sisters were forced to say goodbye to their father over Zoom, even though they were just miles away from the hospital. “We were not permitted to be with him, ” says MacFarland. “It was a very tragic thing, as it’s been for too many people.”
MacFarland’s father is just one of more than 500,000 people who have died due to COVID-19 in the United States, including nearly 6,000 people in the Centennial State. But she didn’t want him to be just a statistic. She wanted him to be remembered.
Motivated to give people like MacFarland a platform to grieve, commemorate, and honor loved ones lost to the insidious disease, Denver locals Megan and Samantha Shoflick launched Covituary in January. The website allows family and friends to write tributes and eulogies, share pictures, videos, and donation links, and post guest entries for free. The site also features a spot to recognize a loved one’s noteworthy milestones, from career accomplishments to philanthropic work, so that nothing is forgotten.
“This is our way of giving back in this time, and it is our intention that the website will last forever and always be accessible for generations to come,” says Samantha, a senior at Cherry Creek High School.
The mother-and-daughter team came up with the idea to launch a memorial site back in April after hearing that someone they knew had climbed a ladder to a second-story window of a nursing home with an iPad to help a friend say goodbye to his wife dying of COVID-19. “Sadly, for the funeral they had to do the same thing and go back with the ladder and the iPad,” says Megan. After planning the website together, Megan—who typically works as an event planner but had some down time because of the pandemic—hired a web developer to help bring the idea to fruition.
In any other year, saying goodbye to a loved one or attending a funeral doesn’t typically require such drastic measures, but stay-at-home orders and social-distancing requirements have forced everything—even grieving—to go virtual. In creating Covituary, Megan and Samantha hope to make sure people lost to COVID-19 are properly remembered. While the website doesn’t host or stream funeral services (Megan hopes that one day it will be able to), the memorial pages offer a place for loved ones to grieve collectively, something that COVID-19 has taken away.
“It’s difficult in normal times to lose a loved one and then to lose one now when you can’t grieve or celebrate their lives is just so hard,” says Megan.
In addition to offering sharing capabilities through social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), Covituary is available in 10 different languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, and Russian so that “anyone around the world could use it,” says Samantha. “This pandemic has touched everyone…we wanted it to be accessible to everyone.” Since launching, 68 memorial pages have been published in remembrance of individuals from across the country, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.
MacFarland, who heard about Covituary from her cousin who lives in Denver, decided to utilize the platform after writing an obituary for a local newspaper and funeral home. She was able to re-read what she originally wrote the days following her father’s passing and add additional information from her two sisters before posting to the site. “When you are initially grieving, you don’t always recall clearly things you’ve said or written,” she says. Whether it’s been a year or just a few days, users can create or update memorial pages in their own time.
“With so many dying, it is easy to just think of all the losses as just a number,” MacFarland says. “But Covituary allows loved ones to put a name and personal information about the person they lost for anyone to see some things about who each person was and how much they will be missed and are always loved by their family and friends.”