One Good Thing: Woman’s mission is to honor COVID-19 victims

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Jessica Murray works in her dining room on a website she started to honor lives lost to COVID-19, with her cockatoo Misha on her lap, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in St. Louis. Murray, who works in marketing and sales support for a construction firm and never worked as a writer, has provided mostly short life stories of those who've died in vignettes that are elegant and moving in their simplicity. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS – It broke Jessica Murray’s heart that so many people in the St. Louis area were dying from the coronavirus and that they were being remembered less for who they were than as statistics of the pandemic, so she decided to do something about it.

In June, Murray began the website stlouiscovidmemorial.com to honor lives lost to COVID-19. She mostly relies on information she can glean online, including from obituaries and other news stories about the dead. Her site and Facebook page serve as memorials to the area's pandemic victims, providing glimpses into their lives and deaths.

Murray, 40, typically works a couple hours a night on her laptop at the dining room of her duplex in St. Louis’ Dutchtown neighborhood, often with her cockatoos Boo, Arthur and Misha providing comfort nearby when the stories overwhelm her.

“Just thinking about what the families are going through, it’s heartbreaking," Murray said. "No person with Alzheimer's or dementia or in a nursing home should have to die alone. Nobody should go into a hospital and never see their kids again.”

The St. Louis region was an early hot spot. About half of Missouri’s more than 3,000 deaths have been in St. Louis or its surrounding counties. And hundreds of others have died just across the Mississippi River in Illinois.

Murray was scrolling through her phone while waiting for her dinner to arrive in June when she saw a New York City website that was tracking lives lost to the virus. By the time her food arrived, she had purchased her domain name.

“I just thought that behind each of these numbers was somebody’s grandma or somebody’s sister or somebody’s mom," Murray said.

Since then, Murray has posted mostly short life stories about more than 125 people. Murray, who works in marketing and sales support for a construction company, said she’s never worked as a writer, but her stories are elegant and moving in their simplicity.