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Harford families whose loved ones died during spring spike of COVID-19 pandemic take part in musical tribute

Those who had a loved one die during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring, were able to gather over the weekend in Fallston with others who lost someone at that time and pay tribute.

About 170 people gathered on the grounds of Highview Memorial Gardens on Saturday. The tribute was meant for families whose relatives died during the spring, not just those who died of COVID in that time frame, and could not have a typical visitation or burial service, as well as families who could not be with their loved one while dying in a hospital or nursing home, said Lynda Staylor, director of family services for Highview and coordinator of the event.

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Those whose lives were celebrated are either buried in the cemetery or had a funeral arranged through Highview between mid-March and mid-June, the first major spike in a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans — including at least 74 people in Harford County — so far this year.

“Thank you for entrusting your loved ones to our care — we’re very honored,” Staylor told those in attendance.

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The tribute, which lasted about an hour, included musical performances by singers and musicians appearing in person and via video link. Iain Forrest, a New York City-based cellist and singer/songwriter, and the Libera Boys Choir of London, England, performed via video.

Local residents Chris Maggitti played guitar and Magen Cornacchione and Julianne Deibert, both soloists, sang in person. Cornacchione, 15, of Bel Air, sang “For Good” from the musical “Wicked” and “Over the Rainbow” from the film “The Wizard of Oz.”

Cornacchione later said she “felt like it was really good that we were able to give” the grieving families a chance to pay tribute to their loved ones. Her mother, Colleen Cornacchione, also noted that the families could “come together with the same type of [people] that experienced loss ... not just loss of a loved one, but loss of the ability to celebrate their life.”

Colleen Cornacchione noted that her parents are buried in Highview. Her father, Richard E. Harding, died last Thanksgiving and she recalled that Magen would sing to her grandfather each day toward the end of his life, noting how “it always would lift his spirits.”

“We were able to celebrate his life,” Cornacchione said of her father’s funeral, which happened before the pandemic. “We were lucky that we were able to do that.”

The tribute Saturday also included remarks from Harford County Councilman Chad Shrodes and the Rev. John Meeks, plus there was a ceremonial release of doves. Colleen Cornacchione praised how “such great people from all over” came together for the event.

“It goes to show you that it’s not just people here in Harford County that lost a loved one during the COVID shutdown, but people all over the world,” she said. “It goes to show that, even when times are tough, there is still a lot of compassion and love in our world and that is priceless, that is truly priceless.”

Juliana Pitzer gave a poetry reading, reciting the lyrics to the song “Look for Me in Rainbows,” performed by Vicki Brown. Pitzer’s boyfriend, Trevor Quinn, passed away in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The 20-year-old Bel Air High School graduate and University of Maryland, College Park, student died April 10, according to his girlfriend.

Pitzer, who attended Bel Air High with Quinn, was looking forward to starting her senior year at Maryland with her boyfriend this fall. She studies bio-engineering and he was majoring in aerospace engineering, Pitzer said.

Attendance at a viewing for Quinn was limited to 10 people because of restrictions on the size of public gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Pitzer noted that “we were lucky enough to have multiple viewings,” however.

“I thought it was really sweet of Lynda , putting it all together,” Pitzer said of the tribute.

Pitzer’s friend and fellow BAHS alumna — and Maryland graduate — Bel Air resident Hayat Jabbour attended the tribute with her.

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“Music is always a good way to evoke emotions,” Jabbour said.

Staylor said she “wanted to do something special” for families who could not be in the room with their loved ones as they died or could not have a large amount of people at the funeral. Several people came up to Staylor after the tribute and and thanked her for putting the event together.

“I think it’s [important] for them to have that sense of closure, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to honor their loved ones, to be able to pay tribute to them,” she said.

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