BELMAR — When Rima Samman lost her brother, Rami, to COVID-19 last year, the pain was unbearable.
The Belmar resident, hoping to create a positive conduit for her grief, created a memorial on the borough’s beachfront for not only her brother, but others who have lost a family member due to the virus.
Last week, she created three heart-shaped memorials on the Belmar beachfront, at the Third Avenue Beach. After spreading the word on Facebook, hundreds of people began to contact her to add their loved one’s names to the memorial.
Ms. Samman lost her brother last May in the early days of the pandemic. On what would have been her brother’s 41st birthday, Jan. 25, she wanted to create a memorial for her brother and thought the best place would be the beachfront.
“I have always found the beach very healing, very spiritual,” she said.
Yellow shells make up the outline of the hearts, which are then filled with rocks with the names of individuals who died with COVID-19. A piece of wood with a message near the memorial reads “Feel free to put your loved ones’ names. Remembering those we lost,” with markers placed in the sand.
“I wanted to do something where if he was looking down from heaven, he would have been able to see it,” she said.
The first week she created the memorial, Ms.Samman started to receive messages on Facebook from people all over the state, asking if she could add their loved ones to the site.
The first day since she posted about the memorial on social media, she received around 150 names of individuals to add to the memorial.
“I probably wake up every morning to at least a hundred messages of people looking for a name to be added,” she said.
Over the past week, she became a repository for the grief of others, who told her their stories of losing loved ones. Due to the snow the past two days, she said she has received 500 additional names to add to the memorial.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands in the United States, and millions around the world, the rocks drive home the point that every number in that death toll has a story behind it.
“Every time I am writing down a name, you realize that it’s another person that died,” she said. “Some people will give you a whole story of who this person is, what they accomplished and how much they meant to them for their name to be on a rock on the beach.”
Some of the stories that she was told were gut-wrenching. One individual wanted Ms. Samman to dedicate a rock to their neighbor who had donated a kidney to them. Another person sent her the names of three people, their mother, father and brother, who all died within nine days.
“You get that request and you see the names are all the same last name and she told me the story and how can I say no,” Ms. Samman said. “It’s so sad. I don’t think people know how much loss people are experiencing.”
The memorial has turned Ms. Samman into the collector of not only names, but also of people’s stories of their loved ones.
“I have always been good at helping people, so I feel like this is a way of the universe throwing me into what I was meant to do anyway,” she said. “I feel good that I was chosen to help others heal.”
The names in the hearts weren’t just added by Ms. Samman, as individuals from all over the state have made the trip to Belmar to add their loved ones to the memorial.
On Tuesday, Ms. Samman said that the memorial had survived the snowstorm and is still at the beachfront. When she went to check, she saw a couple from Toms River adding a name to the heart.
“I know it would have made my brother proud,” she said.
This is an excerpt of the print article. For more on this story, read The Coast Star—on newsstands Thursday or online in our e-Edition.
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