RNAO leads dozens of organizations in candlelight vigil

This past Thursday, March 11 marked the one-year anniversary since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. What a year it has been for nurses, other health-care workers, and millions and millions of people affected by this extraordinary and life-changing event! Individuals at home and around the world have experienced loss and disruption in their lives during this trying time. March 11 was a day to reflect on the tragedy that rippled across the globe. It was also a day of hope as vaccinations advance and we prepare to navigate our way out of this disaster.

35 health organizations across Ontario responded to RNAO’s invitation to join in solidarity to commemorate the anniversary through a tribute event and candlelight vigil. We were honoured to have Canada's parliamentary poet laureate Louise Bernice Halfe – Sky Dancer – join us virtually. She read an emotional and reflective poem titled “Fasting and Feasting” paying tribute to those who died from the virus. Her poem was deeply moving and truly encapsulated the feeling that there’s been “no room to breathe, yet too much room to ruminate”.

Following the poetry reading at 7 pm, we took a few moments to pause and light a candle to remember the lives, smiles, moments, days and hugs we lost this past year. Our coming together highlights the suffering, the hardship, and the silver-linings of this pandemic.

Much like Florence Nightingale’s lamp, we also lit candles to symbolize the light of tomorrow. We aspire to a future different than the one before the pandemic – and will use the lessons learned to build a better and just future for all.

Taking this moment to light our candles collectively once again demonstrated the power of together-we-can-do-it. Poet Louise Bernice Halfe said it best in the comments: “What is occurring here brings me to tears. Thank you for this honor.”

Thank you to everyone who joined virtually and shared on Twitter (here is one thread). Many health organizations, politicians and members of the public recognized the anniversary using #Candle4COVID and #TogetherWeCanDoIt. Ontario’s Ministry of Health, Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton were among the many who shared posts using the hashtags.

This tribute was part of RNAO’s #TogetherWeCanDoIt campaign, which was launched on March 19, 2020 with our #Cheer4HealthWorkers initiative.

We spoke to many media outlets prior to the tribute event, including CTV News Toronto (22:27 mark) and Global News 980 CFPL. My message: we experienced the many tragedies of this past year together, and it is important for every person anywhere to take a moment to feel together in our pain, to reflect and look ahead with hope.

RNAO’s flame will keep shining bright as we advocate for a just recovery for all. We must tackle longstanding issues in our health system and society that contribute to ill-health, inequality and an endangered planet. That is the way to honour the lives lost to COVID-19. Let us look forward and keep our light shining bright and strong in voice and in deeds.