AUSTIN, Texas - "It’s been too much pain, I think we need to start healing," said North Austin artist Shane Reilly.
After a year of pain, Reilly is preparing to take down the COVID-19 memorial in his Brentwood front yard. The memorial has tens of thousands of flags, each honoring a Texan killed by the virus.
It also has a sign, with a daily updated number, as Reilly eventually 'ran out of room' for flags. "You know it tears you up because it’s real. It’s mom or someone’s dad or loved one."
Monday marked one year since Texas’ first COVID-19 death, a 90-year-old Matagorda county man. "I wanted to show it’s not just numbers these are people," Reilly explained.
Many flags contain handwritten notes from loved ones of the deceased. Reilly left a sharpie out in his yard so people can write messages. He says some people have also shown up with their own flags.
"I had grandparents drive up and they got out of the car and they came to show the flags to their little grandson and at one point they said ‘one of these flags represents your mom,’ ‘Cause he lost his mom you know early on, June," he said.
Reilly, whose teenage son is immunocompromised, started the memorial last May hoping to send a message to Texas lawmakers. "To say ‘hey, this is a real thing’ and for a long time they didn’t believe it," he said.
Reilly’s neighbor, Marc Connelly, has watched the memorial grow from its initial 972 flags. "I’ve been and still am quite critical of the governor and so I think bringing people's attention to the fact that all these people in Texas are dying every day is really a good thing," he said.
Reilly hopes his fellow Texans will understand that even though the memorial is coming down, the pandemic is still here. He hopes they will choose to take care of one another.
"I do believe that we are healing as Texans but this was real and this affected all of us and it still affects all of us in a very permanent way and I just don’t want us to lose that lesson."
Ahead of deconstruction, Reilly is asking anyone who wants to keep a flag honoring a loved one to contact him on Facebook. He says he is also open to someone else moving and taking over the installation.