Chicago's Grief Gate highlights magnitude of loss to COVID-19

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb in Illinois, one local community organization is commemorating the lives we've lost.

JUSTembrace is a religious-based organization focused on uplifting and unifying the Chicago neighborhood of Uptown. Executive Director, Sherilyn Sheets, created the Grief Gate to celebrate the lives of community members who have passed.

"It's a lamenting gate, it's a place that we have used to mark every life that's been lost to COVID-19 in just the city of Chicago," Sheets said.

The gate is covered with 2,700 ribbons.

"We want our neighborhood to know when someone's life has gone and this is a community where a lot of people disappear," Sheets said. "We just wanted to use our gate as a way of dignifying life and marking the value and importance of life. This is a way where we can be together without physically being together."

Sheets and other community members started making the Grief Gate at the end of May. And over the past two months, the number of names written on the ribbons continues to grow.

"I think some people took COVID-19 for granted like it wasn't nothing. But when you work in healthcare and see this first-hand, this is real," said Regina Cohen, who works at a nursing home near the JUSTembrace house. "These were my friends. I literally cared for these people and to see them on the gate it's like... they're not here no more."

The gate was created to provide a space for people to publicly grieve, and remind neighbors that the positive cases are more than just numbers - they're people.

"I'm glad that they did this because it shows that somebody out here is paying attention and that somebody cares," Cohen said.

"This is really a way for those of of us who haven't lost people to really see the magnitude of the loss. These are human lives that are gone in the course of a couple of months," Sheets added.

Markers are attached to the sides of the gate, for people to add the names of loved ones they've lost as well.