I recently drafted a paper detailing the data I’ve collected on StLouisCovidMemorial.com and my general processes. This project has been a significant part of my life, but I’ve had to put it on pause temporarily (except for user-submitted memorials) due to the mental health toll of constantly pouring over obituaries and trying to memorialize the human side of local St. Louis lives lost to COVID-19. It was incredibly depressing, but I have no regrets.

Between June 19, 2020, and March 1, 2021, I published 219 obituary summaries and user-submitted memorials for people in the Greater St. Louis area who died of COVID-19 or complications related to the virus. This effort aimed to humanize the local impact of COVID-19 deaths by respectfully presenting memorials with pictures of everyone who died that I could find.

Process and Methodology

User-submitted memorials made up only 18 of the 219 posts. The remaining 201 entries were summaries of obituaries that I found publicly posted online. Sorting through over 10,000 individual obituaries manually was a monumental task, requiring me to search as many as thirteen funeral home websites regularly. My three primary sources were:

  • Legacy.com: I searched the entire state of Missouri separately for the words “COVID” and “Corona.”
  • StLouisCremation.com: I manually sorted through every single page since every page has the word “COVID” on it.
  • Riverbender.com: Using a Google site search resulted in many duplicate and irrelevant results, but it was somewhat more efficient than manually skimming each published obituary.

Data Collection and Challenges

In February 2021, I began keeping a list of phrases about COVID-19 as the cause of death, reflecting the various ways people phrase this information. Realizing that these sources might be changed or removed, I started making screenshots of the obituary pages I obtained information from to ensure I had a record.

I built a basic WordPress website on a domain I purchased, using a custom child theme of Divi by ElegantThemes, and various plugins to extend functionality. These included Advanced Custom Fields, Divi FilterGrid, Gravity Forms, Link Library, and MailPoet 3.

Key Data Insights

Using WordPress categories, I organized the data into various groups such as age range, county, month of death, and special categories like veteran, educator, and healthcare worker deaths. I also used WordPress tags to add more specific details such as “African American,” branch of the military, and names of specific nursing homes.

Discussion and Future Directions

This project highlighted several critical insights, including higher death rates among African Americans in St. Louis per capita compared to white people, despite their obituaries rarely mentioning COVID-19 as the cause of death. Discussions with Dr. Paulette Sankofa revealed cultural factors contributing to this disparity.

Moving forward, more data collection, discussion, and analysis could focus on:

  • The impact on impoverished people and non-English speakers.
  • Health disparities noted by Dr. Chris Prener.
  • The Bereavement Multiplier as it applies to small communities.

I welcome further collaborations and mentorship and am considering editing and submitting this work to a more official platform. There is ample room to elaborate on the discussion points, particularly regarding the grief multiplier and racial and socioeconomic disparities.

Conclusion

Putting this project on pause was a difficult but necessary decision for my mental health. Nevertheless, the journey has been profoundly meaningful, and I am committed to continuing this work when I am able. I invite you to read the full draft of my paper and explore the data I’ve collected.

Download the paper in PDF format: Download

Thank you for your support and understanding as we continue to honor the lives of those lost to COVID-19 in our community.