With bright sun shining down on the parking lot at Academy Manor, employees of the nursing home stepped forward, one by one, to plant a red, pink or purple petunia in a heart-shaped plot surrounded by rounded beach stones.
As they read poems, another employee passed out tissues in the simple, yet emotional, ceremony to honor 25 residents who died there since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our goal is to remember those who have been lost and to help the families remember their loved ones,” said Sandy Crane, admissions and marketing director for the 152-bed skilled rehab and long-term care facility located at 89 Morton St.
“It’s been devastating and difficult for so many,” she said.
Like eldercare facilities across the country, Academy Manor has been hit hard by COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. It attacks a high percentage of people who are older and have pre-existing conditions.
Owned by Genesis Health Care of Pennsylvania, Academy Manor is one of three such facilities in the area. Sutton Hill and Prescott House, both in North Andover, are also owned by Genesis.
As a way to honor the residents lost to COVID-19 in the Andover facility, staff members came up with the idea of creating a flower garden in front of the sign at the entrance to the parking lot.
Using the beach stones, they created a heart shape and filled it with topsoil. They purchased dozens of different colored petunias from Lowe’s and began planting them around 2 p.m. Thursday.
The simple, yet moving ceremony started with Executive Director Susan Gauthier calling for a moment of silence. She said in her opening remarks that it was a “tough time” at the nursing home and that “no words” could really convey their feelings in the face of such tragic loss of life.
About 20 people stood, 6 feet apart, wearing masks, sterile gloves and medical scrubs.
Recreational Assistant Rosie Schwaeble read two poems, including one by Robert Pavlinsky, “I Never Said Good-Bye.”
“I never got the chance to say I love you. I never got the chance to say I’ll miss you. Nobody told me that you were going to die. It hurts. I never said GOOD-BYE.”
Several staff members teared up under their protective masks. There were many takers of the tissues.
Then, as one person dug a shallow hole, another approached the small flower plot, took a petunia, and planted it carefully into the soft, rich soil.
“We’re all in this together,” said Gauthier, as she dug more holes for the small annuals. “I’ve been doing this for 26 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. But this is the season of planting and growing.”