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As Hawaiʻi passes a grim milestone of 1K COVID-19 deaths, a local church honors each life lost

central union church chairs.jpg
Central Union Church of Honolulu
The Central Union Church of Honolulu set out 916 chairs on All Saints' Day to honor each life lost in Hawaiʻi due to COVID-19. (Nov. 1, 2021)

Hawaiʻi passed a grim milestone over the weekend — 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Each life represented by a number is a tremendous personal loss, and each loss has its own story.

One month ago Tuesday, Lydia Woodland celebrated her 94th birthday and was looking forward to celebrating at least a few more.

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Courtesy Woodland Family
Lydia Woodland died on Nov. 9, 2021.

"She was in really good health. I mean the last time she went to the doctor, the doctor said, 'Oh, there’s nothing wrong with you, you’ll probably live to be at least 100,'" said Rebecca Woodland, Lydia Woodland’s eldest daughter.

Her daughter arrived home in Honolulu this week after attending her mother’s funeral in Canada. Lydia Woodland died of COVID-19 on Nov. 9.

The younger Woodland shared the miracles, trials and tribulations of her mother’s life with Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

"She was born in Siberia during Stalin's regime and her family escaped. It's an amazing story," she recalled. "She was taken across the frozen Amur River by horse-drawn sleigh and that's how the family escaped. It went from Russia into China."

Lydia Woodland and her family eventually made their way to the United States via China.

"She definitely was a woman of perseverance and she was a great mom," Rebecca Woodland said. "She always rebounded from everything. So we expected her to rebound from this too because that's what mom did."

Lydia Woodland is one of the more than 5 million people worldwide who have died due to COVID-19.

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Courtesy Woodland Family
Rebecca Woodland speaks at a memorial service in Canada for Lydia Woodland on Nov. 20, 2021.

Earlier this month, the Central Union Church of Honolulu marked All Saints' Day with a ceremony honoring each life lost due to the coronavirus in Hawaiʻi. The church filled its front lawn with chairs, one for each person, and rang the church bells 916 times.

Reverend Brandon Duran helped to organize the ceremony. He said he felt it was important for people to be able to visualize the scale of this loss.

On All Saints' Day in 2020, the church set out 238 chairs for those who died due to COVID-19, he said.

"I know that it's still very much a part of our lives, it's still very much affecting the lives of everyone, and some in some really deep and profound ways," Duran said. "And so we knew it was important to do this event again, to once again visibly and viscerally lift up, and name and remember and honor those who have passed — because their lives mattered, their lives were a gift, they blessed so many — they had so many loved ones."

Janelle Duran
Central Union Church of Honolulu
Reverend Brandon Duran

"There's a part of me that feels like just rushing through the pandemic and wanting it to be over. It feels like we're forgetting what we've lost and who we've lost," he said.

For All Saints' Day on Nov. 1, 2021, there were 916 chairs.

"At noon on that day, we rang the carillon, the chimes, one chime for each life lost. Last year in 2020 when we did this, it was one chime and a brief pause and then another and it took about 15 minutes," Duran said. "Then this year doing that again and now it took nearly an hour to do each chime for the over 900 lives lost and that was, that was very overwhelming."

This interview aired on The Conversation on Nov. 23, 2021.

Savannah Harriman-Pote is a producer for The Conversation and Manu Minute. Contact her at
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