INDIANAPOLIS — There's a growing interactive map online, created to memorialize the people who've died from COVID-19. It's so we don't forget that the number of deaths represents real people who were loved by their family and friends.
Lisa Wallen's father is on the map.
"My dad was my best friend. We did everything together, so he really was my best friend," Lisa said. "When he first passed away, I felt so alone."
Her dad was diagnosed with COVID-19 in January, and doctors placed him on a ventilator in February. She lost him in March.
Larry Wallen — a caring, smart, funny father who loved camping with his daughter — had just turned 68.
"If he could have made it a couple more weeks, he could have gotten vaccinated," Lisa said. "I am very grateful that I was able to be there because I could not imagine losing my dad and not being able to be there with him. I've heard so many people say, 'We had to lose our father over an iPad.'"
Larry is one of the 818,000 Americans we've lost in the COVID crisis.
Their faces and family members are more than just numbers.
"It's a human being. It's a person. It's a father," Lisa said.
Personalizing the toll of the pandemic is the mission behind a mapping project online.
"Covid: Lost Loved Ones" shares a visual record of coronavirus victims — their names, their stories, their memories. So far, there are 5,000 people on the map, including dozens in Indiana.
"If you've lost someone, there's a link, you can fill out a form. Basically, upload a picture, write a little short story about your loved one, and then, go through a quick approval process and appear on the map," explained the map's creator, Jeremiah Lindemann.
Lindemann created the map to mirror another he created a few years ago, humanizing the opioid epidemic.
Like that one, this project hopes to reduce stigma, remove politics, create empathy and connect families.
It grew online after a temporary art installation in D.C. this fall: White flags, representing lives lost, were showcased near the Washington Monument.
A companion digital flag, with the family member's story, could be uploaded online.
"I think this is a way to kind of bring that sense of reality back of, you know, those charts that we're seeing on the news every day — there's people behind those," Lindemann said. "The other piece is just instilling a bit of empathy in the world. I think there's a lot of that that's lacking. Hopefully, people aren't so quick to judge."
"Sometimes, depending on who you're around, you can't even talk about it," Lisa said. "Unless you've experienced the same thing, it's a different kind [feeling] of being alone. This, connecting, is helpful."
Lisa wanted her dad included in the project so that he's remembered and honored not for the way he died, but how her best friend lived.
"My dad was funny," she said. "He was funny, and he was very caring. Our flag reads 'Dedicated husband of 48 years, loving father and brother. We made sure you got a fighting chance. We love and miss you every day.'"
To view people's memories and upload your own loved one as part of the project, click here.