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The Yankee Express

Grafton’s COVID memorial impressive and powerful

By Janet Stoica
As of this writing, there are 17,617 American flags fluttering in the breeze on Keith Hill Road in Grafton. Each flag a small but heartfelt dedication to every Massachusetts resident’s life lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is a strong and moving tribute to the many who have succumbed to this dreadful virus and passed from our families’ lives. The sheer number of these residents gone from this world is equivalent to an entire town being removed from existence when one compares each town’s population: Auburn 16,188; Charlton 13,697; Dudley 11,802; Douglas 8,471; Grafton 17,765; Millbury 13,866; Oxford 13,911; Sutton 8,963; and Webster 17,027. 
Michael Labbe and his daughter felt that this type of tribute would be a fitting and appropriate honor to their fellow residents who passed away. “My youngest daughter, Melissa, came up with the idea,” said Mike. “We couldn’t do anything hands-on to help with COVID. We couldn’t volunteer at hospitals or clinics or other places like that because of health regulations. My family has always been involved in public service. Paying it forward while you can is very important to us.”
Every soul who was lost to this pandemic in Massachusetts is represented here. Mike continues, “When we were in complete lockdown, we watched the news from Europe and then in our own country showing the thousands of people dying without relatives at their side to comfort them. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters. All these people dying alone. Their last vision was of someone in a hospital gown and facemask. Our purest and deepest sympathy went out to them. They were all so alone before their passing.”
As residents have received their vaccines, the astounding numbers of those who have died has decreased but not stopped and Mr. Labbe and his family have not stopped adding more flags to honor each of them.
He and his family don’t seek notoriety, he said. “The display is to serve the community. Every flag represents a human soul and there are hundreds of stories from each and every visitor who stops by this memorial. There may be 10-50 cars daily stopping by here to honor those represented here. The visitors have taken pictures and told me amazing stories about their family members who have died from COVID. It’s someone’s grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, son, or daughter. It’s truly humbling.”
Observers to the display are encouraged to get the word out to others. There may be a sense of closure for some. Your heart and soul cannot help but be impressed deeply by this patriotic and moving display.
“We have to teach our youth about the need for caring about others,” Mr. Labbe affirmed. “If two people are touched by the symbolism of this, it will have been worth it. Pay it forward, you never know when you might need comfort yourself.”
Contact Janet:  [email protected]