George Washington Jr. and Isabelle Papadimitriou were just two of the thousands of Americans lost to COVID-19 and remembered during a memorial to COVID-19 victims Tuesday, Jan. 19 in Washington, DC. (Memorial photo by AP/Alex Brandon; photos of Washington and Papadimitriou provided by family)
George Washington Jr. and Isabelle Papadimitriou were just two of the thousands of Americans lost to COVID-19 and remembered during a memorial to COVID-19 victims Tuesday, Jan. 19 in Washington, DC. (Memorial photo by AP/Alex Brandon; photos of Washington and Papadimitriou provided by family)

“To heal, we must remember,” Biden said. “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today.”

In his last day before becoming president, Joe Biden did something now former President Donald Trump never did: honor the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lost their lives to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris held a dusk vigil at the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool on Tuesday, the first such national moment of grief during the months-long pandemic. The first official case of coronavirus in the United States was documented one year ago this week.

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“To heal, we must remember,” Biden said. “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today.

Harris also spoke of the collective anguish of the nation: “For many months we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together.”

Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a COVID-19 memorial, with lights placed around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

That healing and remembrance is particularly meaningful for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. As Trump exits the White House and Biden enters it, two Americans who lost their parents to COVID-19 reflected back on the Trump administration, shared their thoughts on Tuesday’s memorial, and expressed hope about what a Biden administration would mean for the country. 

George Washington III lost his father, George Washington Jr., to COVID-19 in June. Fiana Tulip lost her mother, Isabelle Papadimitriou, in July. 

COURIER: How did the Trump administration change America? What kind of lasting impact will it leave on your life?

Washington III: The Trump administration has undoubtedly changed America for the worse. It gave people permission to be cruel, to lack empathy, to simply not care about your neighbors. There was no doubt that this was in the recesses of the American public; this doesn’t come from nowhere. But he gave America license to feel this way in public, and demand that nothing ever change to be better for someone else.

READ MORE: Remembering George Washington Jr.: A Man With the Voice of a Giant

I had never before lost friendships because of the politician they supported. But the Trump administration made that possible. And though my father’s death from COVID could not directly be connected to the Trump administration, I can hold them responsible for the inconceivably awful impact they had on the country by not acting in a responsible way to help hold down the spread of the virus.

Tulip: Donald Trump will forever have a stain on his legacy. He’s the first president to get impeached twice and he’s the only president in a century with so much blood on his hands. Four hundred thousand Americans lost their life while on Trump’s watch.

Even more heartbreaking: Scientists and epidemiologists have found that 90% of all American COVID-19 deaths [at least from the first wave] can now be attributed to the Trump administration’s delay between March 2 and 16. This loss of life was preventable. My mom’s death was preventable. Knowing this and living with this will be one of the hardest realities my family and I have to carry with us for the rest of our lives. So not only will Trump forever have a stain on his legacy, he will also leave a stain on my life.

Before being sworn into office, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris held a vigil on Tuesday honoring the deaths of the 400,000+ Americans who’ve died from COVID. What did that mean to you?

Washington III: I watched the ceremony live, and it brought tears to my eyes to see the candles light up, and the long rows of lights spreading from the Washington Monument. Dad was represented there, and it does give me a feeling that people are seeing and experiencing a change in direction. Recognizing those 400,000 deaths was something the Trump administration refused to do except in passing …”It is what it is,” [Trump said]. It is so much more than that.

George Washington Jr. passed away from COVID-19 on June 24 at the age of 81. (Image courtesy of his son)

It is the end of generations, the loss of stories and histories, the loss of hopes and hugs and pats on the back and love for thousands of people. The Biden administration acknowledges this, and that is a start.

Tulip: I watched every second of the memorial Biden and Harris hosted for those we have lost to COVID. It was a much-needed moment of recognition. Before and after the event, I took part in a group-watch hosted by Marked By COVID and Reimagine, where we gathered as a community to share stories of loss, love, and hope, lit candles in honor of our loved ones, and discussed the need for a public memorial to honor and remember the huge loss of life we’ve experienced because of this virus and because of our leadership’s mishandling of the virus. This is something we should never forget so that we can ensure it never happens again. This is our moment, and unity is only the path forward. 

What does Joe Biden being inaugurated mean to you and what do you hope to see him do as president?

Washington III: Joe Biden’s inauguration gives me a little bit of hope. It took an enormous effort to get him into the Oval Office, one that was driven overwhelmingly by people of color, especially Black women. And all signs point to the Biden administration trying to make good on the promises that were made on the campaign trail to help rebalance the scales and give more people an opportunity to succeed. That is an uphill climb with a 50/50 Senate, but the fact that there are competent, non-malevolent people who are going to be in charge of the US government is enough to give me hope for things to improve. Knowing that the outgoing administration barely attempted to get vaccines into the arms of Americans who need it, I feel infinitely better that the responsible adults are getting back into the game.

Tulip: Biden and [Harris]’s inauguration means so much to me and to those who have lost a loved one to COVID. It’s hard because deep in our hearts we believe our mom or dad or brother or sister or son or daughter would still be alive had President Biden been in office just one year earlier.

Isabelle Papadimitriou died in a Dallas, Texas, hospital on July 4. (Image courtesy of her daughter)

I’m looking forward to seeing the Biden administration take a more active role in containing this virus, and I’m also looking forward to seeing them bring a science-based approach to our country. Donald Trump was the most anti-science and anti-environment president we’ve ever had. He eroded one of the United States’ most enviable assets. I’m looking forward to seeing President Biden and his team rebuild what Trump knocked down and working toward getting the America my mom knew and loved back.

READ MORE: Remembering Isabelle Papadimitriou: ‘She Was a Very Proud Grandmother’