LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. — Among Robin Lee Riddell’s list of names is Shirley Bannister, who was 57 years old and from South Carolina. Apart from that, Riddell doesn’t know who Bannister was, what she did or who survived her, but she writes her information down on a broken piece of clay.
“She’s probably somebody’s mom. Somebody’s friend, sister,” said Riddell, owner of the Coastal Eddy A Gallery in Laguna Beach.
Like the other names Riddell has written, she believes Bannister’s life didn’t have to end because of COVID-19.
“It’s a loss. Life is precious,” said Riddell.
More than 2,000 miles away in South Carolina lives Dennis Bannister, husband to Shirley Bannister. He can’t believe someone he’s never met is thinking about his wife almost a year after she passed. His wife was the chair of the department of the nursing department at Midlands Technical College in Columbia. She earned her nursing degree at the college and returned later in life to teach.
“There’s nothing like losing a loved one. You go to bed at night and roll over and reach out your hand, and you can’t touch the person you used to be with,” said Bannister, a retired engineer living in Columbus, South Carolina.
Bannister and his wife had one child, Demetria Bannister, who also lost her life to the coronavirus. His daughter was a 28-year-old elementary school teacher who loved to sing. Demetria died just weeks before her mother.
About 4.55 million people in the world have died from the coronavirus. In the United States, nearly 700,000 people have succumbed to the virus.
The death toll sparked an idea in Riddell to create an installation called “Shards: In Memoriam.”
“I thought of shards because it’s a great metaphor. They’re the broken pieces of our lives. It’s sharp. It’s painful,” said Riddell.
She hammered clay pieces and used the shards to remember the people she found, like Shirley Bannister, on the front page of a New York Times newspaper that marked the first 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
“We want people to feel a sense of closure or memorializing their loved one, so we want them to contribute as well. We encourage that,” said Riddell.
Her display has grown over the last year with people coming in each week to write down the names of their loved ones. On top of her display is an unattributed quote that reads, “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
“It’s a contrast to what’s going on below. Obviously, it’s never just going to disappear and go away. We have to work collectively to make that happen,” said Riddell, referring to the quote from former President Donald Trump.
While the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t disappeared, Riddell wants people to remember the lives people like Shirley and Demetria Bannister had.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to Dennis Bannister to inform him that his wife’s name was included in Riddell’s art memorial. He was surprised someone so far and unrelated to his family would create something like this. He wants to urge people to get vaccinated, wear masks and stay safe to help prevent more sadness among families.